This is what it was like to be there, and being there was awesome. When John McLaughlin announced a 2017 joint tour with Jimmy Herring, a favorite disciple of McLaughlin’s otherworldly, progressive guitar mastery, there was a considerable buzz of anticipation among the guitar-heads, and certainly among the devotees of the Mahavishnu Orchestra portion of McLaughlin’s illustrious career. Herring, an incredibly talented and versatile player, seemed a perfect, informed choice to usher in each evening with The Invisible Whip, his quintet of marksmen that included former Aquarium Rescue Unit drummer Jeff Sipe. Formidable tasks have befallen many the supporting act, and this was a whopper, yet Herring and his band were nothing shy of spectacular. Only a master himself could follow his apprentice with something equally sensational, and McLaughlin and his 4th Dimension did just that.
But, what if the two bands- nine musicians all totaled- played together for what amounted to a third set in place of an encore, utilizing the Mahavishnu repertoire for their playlist? This is essentially what Live in San Francisco is; that eight-song, thunder-lightning-and-hurricane-in-a-bottle third set, captured on a Friday night, December 8, 2017 at the Warfield Theatre. This is Herring and McLaughlin torching fretboards. This is two drummers, two bass players, and two keyboardists, plus the brilliant multi-instrumentalism of Jason Crosby on violin and Rhodes, splitting atoms left and right in and around the two wizards as they flashed and dashed across the compositional high-wires of “Meeting of the Spirits” and “Birds of Fire.”
And sparkling with the patient, subtle nuances of “A Lotus on Irish Streams” and the blues machine of “The Dance of Maya,” girding under the percussive rattles of Sipe and Ranjit Barot. And the ferocity of the drumming duo as they continued their assault into “Trilogy,” then group vocals making their first appearance among the instrumentals as “Earth Ship” ticked away into the universe, into “Eternity’s Breath Part 1 & 2.” And Barot’s staccato scatting leading the frenetic finale, blasting ahead on “Be Happy,” serving as both recommendation and result of the ensemble’s herculean exertion.
For those fortunate enough to have witnessed it live, this will bring it all rushing back. For those not so lucky, here is the opportunity to find out. Take it and be very, very happy.