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Eric Johnson & Mike Stern - Eclectic Tour Visits Cozy Walla Walla!

photo: jp holesworth
 Feb. 10, 2015
Eclectic release Tour through Walla Walla, Washington last Saturday nite. Home of the "Walla Walla pedal", according to Stern, WW is also home to cozy venue for an equally cozy town-- Main Street Studios where you can see live shows with food and refreshments and book recording space as well. Pretty eclectic themselves!

So how cozy? I pulled up 20 minutes before doors open, found a good old downtown American diagonal parking spot directly across the street from the venue with a tour bus in front. Less than a dozen or so people were gathered so WW is pretty chill, folks. Before even getting out of the car I could hear EJ's sound check runs reverberating through the old brick establishment that was once a hotel. Yet it was a sold-out show, so everyone shows up after finishing their supper and takin' the dog for the evening walk... oh, maybe squeeze in a game of checkers.

All this intro here because I was in a dreamworld anyhoo, having been surprised with tickets just hours earlier by my wife as an early Valentine's gift. Still wondering how I can top this. Yikes!

So we check in, find our little table for 2, more cozy, which is almost dead center stage with only an additional row of tables between us and stage! After glancing at EJ's Marshall, 2 Fender Deluxes and a couple Strats on a stand I head out to the lobby to meet John running merch along with the other hats he wears. Cool guy!

I actually meet and speak with Stern on the way to the lobby. This is ultra casual I tell ya! Mike is an animated character bringing zany antics throughout the show between killing us with his unmistakable Chops of Doom his nickname. I think more than a few EJ fans are discovering another favorite axe master from this collaborative tour throughout the heartland. We're not Walla Walla-ites, but from the nearby Tri-Cities; another type of asylum where they let ya drive and even escape once in awhile.

After being introduced by the hip venue host who seemed equally at home announcing The Shins, our heroes took the stage with a warm-up jam to stretch out, handle minor gear bugs and just get loose as it would remain throughout the show complete with colorful moments from Stern who even manages to drop in a quick Bob Dylan tribute. I'm waiting for him to do Christopher Walken though it doesn't happen, but I'll bet he can do a good one if he wants to.

Doing what they want to seems to be the theme of the evening. In this intimate room of 450 capacity which feels more like 150 you can really get the vibe of musicians traveling around to hang out and jam their asses off for the people, that's us. They're ridin' in the bus throughout the land doing what they love. And God bless 'em for it. I'm gettin' all Charles Kuralt here.

Accompanied by EJ's bass mainstay Chris Maresh and drummer Lionel Cordew taking over for Late Show drummer Anton Fig, these guys tore it up for nearly 2.5 hours with a couple encores. Maresh provides superlative low frequency enhancement, and Cordew, with a who's who resume to the roof will roll over you until you're a grease spot on the superhighway of groove. And you'll enjoy it too!

Set list was surprisingly not exclusively Eclectic tracks intensive, making room for EJ standards and Stern tunes that his fans know well. Everything was extended and segued with minimal pauses, much less breaks (and no opening act either). 

Jam with local guest guitarist behind EJ as Stern (left) takes a seat. Local guy trying to look busy during EJ solo since Mike snagged the only chair. Doesn't he text?

They were joined for one number by a guitarist whom I assume to be local but whose name I didn't catch. The guy had chops; bravely trading solos with the entire band through several laps. And I say bravely because Eric & Mike proceeded to burn the stage to embers leaving but a tiny scrap of non-ignited floor timber for the guy to surf on in a trip through the wormhole. Kudos to the chap for keeping his composure and bringing it. I'd be in therapy right now. It was one of those "Hide yer women! Them Dover Doom boys has done rode into town!" kinda scenes (Strother Martin voice over).

Plenty of  sophisticated shredding was balanced with equal amounts of clean, melodic interplay between two guitarists of different zones who quite enjoy weaving music together; rarely getting in each others way-- in one badass band with a water tight, zero clutter rhythm section. Stern, an alum of Miles Davis band who has shared gigs with everyone from Jaco Pastorius to Michael Brecker and all points in between, is a seasoned jazz fusion monster very at ease playing outside. This has really opened up Johnson's structures, and even hard core EJ fans are hearing him boldly go where no Mr Johnson has gone before. Both artists seem to be winning in this gig along with everyone within earshot.

Encore material included Cliffs of Dover and Red House sung mostly by Stern in his best old school Bluesman voice, the same voice that does Dylan-- and Richard Bona-type unison melodies with his original instrumentals. Speaking of unison, Mike contributes a cool guitar harmony to the chorus in Cliffs. The show was really a musical conversation in a small enough room to easily bring the crowd into the lively discussion.

This is a first using "comfortably hi-access" in a sentence.

Meeting Eric friggin' Johnson was well... what can ya say?? I actually had 7-8 minutes of hang. And not being a drinkin' man I even managed a fairly articulate, condensed conversation with God of Tone; touching on gear and how the collaboration & tour have gone. Quality time with someone I've blogged about numerous times and listened to since the 80's. A bucket list item I can cross off.

Even my sweetheart had a great time mugging with everyone and directing traffic like the rabble rouser she is; knockin' down a couple hefeweizens during the show like one 'o the boys. Funny she still won't go near an IPA... I drove us home.

The Eclectic tour wraps up Feb 17 in Bastrop, TX (Austin area) with gigs in Denver (tonight), Kansas City and Oklahoma City on the way. See links below.

Memorable event! Besides my short iPhone vid snippets above, there is plenty of full length content on YouTube. Check it out!

Yours truly with Mr. Eric Johnson

Special thanks to Jas Obrecht, Darren Michaloski, John Bland & my lovely wife Michelle!

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Eric Johnson & Mike Stern - Eclectic Tour Visits Cozy Walla Walla!


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