Dead 27’s and Elise Testone Pay Tribute to the Music of Hendrix

The Dead 27s and Elise Testone
The Pour House, Nov. 27 (first set)

After only a few songs at their celebration of Jimi Hendrix’s 70th birthday at the Pour House, it was clear that the Dead 27’s had done their homework. The rhythm section, with drummer Daniel Crider and bassist Oliver Goldstein, was 100 percent on point. Singer Trey Francis’ smooth voice turned on the power when it was needed. And, most importantly, guitarist Wallace Mullinax was the undisputed star of the show. But they weren’t just a tight band playing Hendrix songs; they were serious students of the Hendrix Experience’s distinct sound.

On “Easy Rider,” Mullinax’s guitar tone was well aligned with Hendrix’s famously strange tones, as it was all night. It changed appropriately with each song. Mullinax didn’t sound like a polished guitarist covering a Hendrix lick; he captured most of the almost sloppy, mindboggling weirdness that Hendrix seemed to pull out of thin air — the intensely different sound that helped make Hendrix the legend he was. The Hendrix style also the reason we’re still celebrating his birthday 42 years after he died, and it’s the reason why phenomenal guitarists like Mullinax spend years studying his Jimi-ness.

Francis’ soulful voice seemed made for Band of Gypsys drummer Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes,” a concert staple that Miles sang back in the day. But on the next track, the classic “Manic Depression,” Francis was up to the task of growling through one of Hendrix’s most up-tempo, hard-hitting vocal performances. The song’s fast pace was also an opportunity for Crider to show off his ability to keep an extremely complicated beat and make it look easy and stylish.

During his dozens of solos through the night, including on “Hey Joe” and “Spanish Castle Magic,” I overheard members of the packed crowd exclaim to each other, “Oh my god, Wallace is such a badass!” His fingers moved with blazing speed across the fretboard. But any asshole can play fast; what was far most impressive was Mullinax’s remarkable calmness. That he could play at such speed with a complete musical understanding of exactly what he was doing from millisecond to millisecond was astounding.

After a long instrumental break, Mullinax brought down the house with a distorted-note-for-distorted-note replication of Hendrix’s classic “Star Spangled Banner.” After the patriotic earthquake, he welcomed special guest singer Elise Testone (his former bandmate with the Freeloaders) to the stage. It was the recent American Idol finalist’s first appearance back in town since her star turn on national television. Ironically, Testone will sing the national anthem that Mullinax just shredded through before the MLS Cup on Sat. Dec. 1 in Los Angeles.

“How’s everybody doing?” she asked, to loud cheers. “This is my favorite place in Charleston.” Mullinax then started in on the spooky intro to “Angel,” one of Hendrix’s prettiest and most haunting creations. After the song reached its crescendo, Mullinax played the retreating finishing notes as Testone softly sang “Ooohs” to his guitar, matching the notes he was playing and illustrating the chemistry the two developed in their years playing together.

The full band came back on for “Bold As Love,” which Mullinax flew out to Los Angeles to play with Testone on American Idol several months ago. Seeing the full sound in person was the antithesis of watching a shortened version on TV smothered in the glitz of American Idol. It was in the moment and very real, feeling alive in a way that music just can’t on television. And once again, the rhythm work of Crider and Goldstein could not have been more solid; they were in control of the song, driving it from the first note to the last.

Francis came back on for three more classics, weaving his voice in and out of Testone’s for an awesome, impromptu duet effect. Figuring it out as they went along, they swapped verses on “Wind Cries Mary,” with Testone starting in on “The traffic lights turn blue tomorrow.” On “Little Wing,” Mullinax brought the spotlight back where it belonged, unleashing an ungodly beautiful long solo, adding elements from the famous Stevie Ray Vaughan version. For the umpteenth time of the night, he was the closest thing to Jimi that most folks in the audience will likely ever see.

The band finished off their full Hendrix set with the rollicking “Crosstown Traffic.” Testone led the first chorus, with Francis crooning the falsetto he is so good at. On the second chorus, they seamlessly swapped again with Francis taking the low part and Testone going high. It was one of those little things that makes a performance memorable. The band didn’t need to plan it — they were all confident enough in their ability to work together that they knew whatever came out would be gold. And they were right.

Photos by Ballard Lesemann.



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About the Author

Jared Booth

is a Charleston-based freelance writer focusing on the local music scene. He is sometimes funny, often serious, rarely objective, and always honest. When he's not at a show or at the beach, the Virginia native can usually be found on a lawn chair in someone's backyard, sipping on a cold Tecate and belting his heart out to George Jones.

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