Guitar guru John McLaughlin’s inner mounting flame burned white hot at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco Friday night.
During the next-to-last stop on what’s said to be the final North American tour by the maestro of musical metaphysics, Mr. McLaughlin both performed and looked like someone decades younger than his 75 years, first with his 4th Dimension quartet, then in tandem with fellow guitarist Jimmy Herring and the Invisible Whip band.
The evening focused on something audiences haven’t heard in concert since the early to mid-70s: the music of the groundbreaking Mahavishnu Orchestra; equal parts electric jazz, rock, blues and Eastern-influenced sounds with tantalizing, exotic meters.
While occasionally hopping, skipping and frequently grinning on center stage, Mr. McLaughlin had the standing-room-only audience on its feet with a soaring rendition of “Birds of Fire” including a frenetic back-and-forth with Invisible Whip violinist Jason Crosby. Tunes from the entire Mahavishnu oeuvre were part of the constant liquid energy pouring from the stage: “Dance of the Maya,” “Lila’s Dance,” “Vital Transformation,” “Trilogy” along with some newer 4th Dimension pieces including “New Blues, Old Bruise” and “El Hombre Que Sabia (The Man Who Knew)” in honor of the late Paco De Lucia, with whom Mr. McLaughlin noted he had recorded during the 80s at the very same San Francisco venue.
Toward the encore, a few heads in the audience were thrown back, eyes closed tight in meditation (or trance?) during “Eternity’s Breath” while the drummer who recorded the original track on 1975’s “Visions of the Emerald Beyond,” Narada Michael Walden, watched nearby.
This was one transcendent night in San Francisco that won’t soon be forgotten. The nearly 3 and 1/2 hour long show had to be one of the year’s best performances, any genre, anywhere. For those who missed it (or for those who were there and want to relive it), there’s good news. Word is the show was recorded for possible release.