Two exceptional roots rock bands joined forces at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. On a balmy night when the world was mourning the loss of the legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin, Dispatch and Nahko and Medicine for the People brought together a few thousand fans preaching love, harmony and peace while uplifting spirits in a way that only music can.
Nahko Bear fronts his six-piece band Nahko and Medicine for the People with passion, charm, emotional vocals and exceptional musicianship. His songwriting is inspired by a desire to bridge cultural gaps. The band’s opening set at The Greek included expressive versions of “Directions,” “Make a Change” and “Love Letter from God,” all from their 2016 “HOKA” album. The band was joined by vocalist Raye Zaragoza on a couple of tunes including the beautiful ballad “Creation’s Daughter” from the “My Name is Nahko” album released in 2017.
Late in the set, everyone in the band except violinist Tim Snider left the stage. Snider finger picked a beautiful electric violin, connected to a sustain-repeater pedal, to produce an infectious beat. As the beat repeated, he switched to a bow and played a wild solo for several minutes. The rest of the band came back out and with the rhythmic beat continuing, Nahko talked fervently about young people in America being able to make their own choices before launching into “Dear Brother,” a song about bigotry, racism and police brutality.
For the set closing “Build a Bridge,” Nahko brought out Brad Corrigan and JR from Dispatch to help out on percussion. The song was a romping jam with Snider, lead guitarist Chase Makai, bassist Patricio Zuñiga Labarca and drummer Justin Chittams all taking solos. Brad and JR from Dispatch flanked Nahko and banged out heavy beats for a percussion duel with Chittams. Finally, the rest of the band brought the melody back for the rollicking conclusion to the energetic set.
After a set break, the guys from Dispatch hit the dark, smoky stage and came out firing. The band, formed in 1996, is known for their social activism, charity work and school-improvement projects. Core group members Brad Corrigan, Chad Stokes Urmston and Pete Heimbold were joined by Mike Sawitzke, JR (Joe Reed) and Matt Embree. Each band member is a multi-instrumentalist, so instrument swaps took place throughout the set. The band also produced amazing harmonies with Corrigan and Urmston handling the bulk of the lead vocal duties.
The early part of the set was all electric as Urmston and Heimbold exchanged guitar and bass on songs like “Skin the Rabbit,” “Bats in the Belfry” and “Painted Yellow Lines.” When the band launched into “Bang Bang,” the title track from their second album released in 1997, the crowd went wild and sang along. Matt Embree did a killer solo on his Fender Stratocaster and near the end of the song the band broke into a “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” chant in loving memory of Aretha Franklin.
The band teased an acoustic section of the show with “Midnight Lorry” but that quickly returned to electric as Mike Sawitzke nailed an intense solo on his Gibson hollow-body guitar. At the end of “Midnight Lorry” the group moved to the front of the stage with acoustic instruments and stripped-down drum kits for “Flying Horses.” Next came an amazing cover of the Grateful Dead classic “Uncle John’s Band” that had incredible harmonies by all the band members as well as a loud singalong from the audience.
Tim Snider from Nahko and Medicine for the People came out to play violin on “Flag” as he and Embree traded licks. Snider departed and the band went back to electric with their normal stage set up for “Open Up” and “General.” They also played a new song called “Came for the Fire.” The band moved back to the front of the stage for more amplified acoustic performances on “Wild Ones” and “Elias” to end the set.
After a brief break, the Dispatch came back out to the stage for an encore. Brad Corrigan said they were having too much fun to leave and introduced a new song “Black Land Prairie,” from their album “Location 13” that will drop in Fall 2018. They then brought out Nahko Bear and Raye Zaragoza to help with “Out Loud” from “Bang Bang” as the enlarged ensemble produced more excellent harmonies. That song segued into a cover of the Beatle’s classic “Don’t Let Me Down” rearranged with more of a reggae vibe. It segued back to the conclusion of “Out Loud.”
For the finale, the band invited all the remaining members of Nahko and Medicine for the People to the stage for a raucous jam on “Letter to Lady J,” another new song from the forthcoming Dispatch album. The tune was inspired by the death of Trayvon Martin, followed by Michael Brown and Tamir Rice. It was written to bring attention to police brutality and the overuse of violence and lack of accountability. The combined bands spread the message and jammed hard until the final notes before taking a group bow and saying goodnight.
For over fifty years, Aretha Franklin used her voice to deliver music for civil rights, social justice and freedom. Music has always moved people emotionally, while raising social and political issues. On this hot Thursday night in Los Angeles, Dispatch and Nahko and Medicine for the People, two bands that make beautiful roots rock music expressed their political, social and societal views and upheld Franklin’s legacy. They conveyed important messages and entertained an audience who listened intently while enthusiastically enjoying their performance.