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Marshall Tucker Band jams at the district fair

Friday, September 12, 2003

After 30 years of performing and no new hits in decades, the Marshall Tucker Band could be excused for sounding a bit tired of it all. No excuses are necessary, as the band proved Thursday night in a rollicking, joyful set at the SEMO District Fair.

These six weathered-looking guys, most of whom have been with founding member Doug Gray since the 1980s, still love to play.

As a full moon rose above them, the band performed before a grandstand audience of about 1,000 Thursday night. Singer/piano player Phil Vassar plays at the grandstand at 8 tonight.

Gray led the band through an eclectic set that ranged from jump blues to ballads and country rockers. They played like the kind of band you'd love to see in a small, sweaty club. Jam bands are all over the musical landscape these days. For Marshall Tucker, jamming has been a way of life on stage.

Trading places

Twin guitarists Stuart Swanlund and former Outlaw Chris Hicks played off each other expertly. Swanlund makes his slide guitar talk, and Hicks is a gifted singer, as he showed on his own composition "Rain," as well as a fiery guitarist.

An extremely talented saxophonist/flutist/keyboardist David Muse, a founding member of Firefall, gives the band more dimension than most rock groups have. When is the last time you heard a flute in a rock 'n' roll song? Marshall Tucker makes it work.

When the band played a jump blues, Muse on sax, Hicks on harp and Swanlund traded riffs in a boiling gumbo of sound that had Gray shouting over the top.

Voice of the band

His voice, a distinctive part of the Marshall Tucker sound, is almost as good as ever. His friendly, talkative presence was endearing.

Gray had the audience help sing "Heard It in the Love Song," one of the few Marshall Tucker Band country radio stations still play.

The only disappointment of the evening was the opening number, "This Old Cowboy." The sound mix was still muddy at first, rendering a song that hasn't aged well -- muscular drummer B.B. Borden is confined to an awful disco-ish beat -- even less listenable.

The band filled the middle of the concert with more extended blues jams. "Ramblin' on my Mind" gave most of the musicians a chance to show their considerable skills but never descended into showing off.

Marshall Tucker saved hits like "Searchin' for a Rainbow," "Desert Skies" and "Fire on the Mountain" for later in the concert. The legacy is alive and well.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182


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