Just a few bars into a “Saints to Sinners” opener, Duane Betts’ cream-colored cowboy hat came loose from his head and dropped to the stage floor, landing between the singer-guitarist and his dreadlocked, gypsy, Palmetto Motel bassist, Pedro Arevalo. Rather than pick it up, Betts- in launch-mode for the first flammable guitar solo of dozens to follow- kicked the hat away. It was going to be a wild one.
A fitting start, too, for Betts and his Palmetto Motel ensemble, on the road in support of his debut LP, Wild & Precious Life, as the hour-and-45-minute show ricocheted from a raucous double-shot- Saints, the record’s current single, and the swelling “Evergreen”- to an Allman Betts Band track, “Shinin’,” and luminous slide-guitar from Johnny Stachela. Then, after an Arevalo-led cool-down on The Wailers’ “Small Axe,” there was “Cold Dark World,” a deeper album cut that features Marcus King on the recording. Here it was Betts and Stachela doing the scorching work down in the blues furnace, then turning to ace keyboardist, John Ginty, for some B-3 lightning on organ, and Vince Fossett’s thunder on drums. The five then slid into the welcoming lope of “Colors Fade,” winding around a tasty Betts solo and three-part vocal harmony with Stachela and Arevalo on the way out.
The devoted that ventured to this terrific Southern Massachusetts venue on a sticky summer Tuesday certainly had its share of Allman Brothers Band fans amongst them. As Betts and the Motel emerged from a twist of cascading notes into the iconic melody line of the Brothers’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” composed by Betts’ father, Dickey, the crowd joyously responded. And, the quintet delivered.
Beginning with a scintillating, extended run from Stachela, the power and grace of the classic instrumental climbed to the next plateau on a near-violent, B-3 assault from Ginty. Betts then took command, guiding the group, and this 20-minute excursion, to a climactic peak with a ringing and resounding solo, awash in dizzying, multi-colored lighting, that dovetailed into a Fossett stampede of percussion. Betts stayed mellow for the next entry, finding his footing on the delicate “Circles in the Stars,” dedicated to his wife, before unfurling the rollicking, “Waiting on a Song.”
In the penultimate slot was “Stare at the Sun,” another opportunity for fretboard fire- maybe too hot- as Betts paused mid-verse to gather himself before the music took hold. As the five muscled through the growling snarls of Betts’ guitar, the kick of the hat at the outset, in hindsight, was a perfect harbinger. Betts and Palmetto Motel are colts in their stalls, ready to run; once turned loose, things are going to fly.
The quintet returned for a breezier encore, dipping back to Betts’ Sketches of American Music EP, with “Taking Time.” It was a brighter finish for these five sinning saints. And suggests, unequivocally, that this was just one of many wild and precious nights to come for Duane Betts & Palmetto Motel.