Among the more prolific musicians of his time, Eric Krasno stormed back into the North Bay with his organ-trio E3 to play a pair of fiery shows at Mill Valley, CA’s Sweetwater Music Hall on Thursday September 19th and Friday, September 20th. Kraz, as he’s affectionately known to his friends and fans, has become quite a beloved figure in the Bay Area due to his ever-blossoming creative affiliations with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead, aka the “Core Four”. Krasno’s roots in the culture and on the guitar run far deeper than his romance with the greatest American rock band/songbook, and few artists touch as many bases as this stalwart guitarist. With E3, Kraz reached deep into his endless bag of tricks with yet another jaw-dropping display of six-string virtuoso, coupled with his always-sturdy song-craft and continually-impressive vocals, along with a choice pair of sit-ins from some celebrated locals.

Eric Krasno Trio – “Big Brother”

[Video: Jeff Thorpe]

The E3 project was conceived out of Eric Krasno’s passion for the soul/jazz and organ funk of the 60s and 70s, mixing in a bit of his more recent forays into bluesy-pop territory, and topped off with the occasional beloved cut of The Beatles or the Dead. Following his solo album, Blood from a Stone, and series of tours with the larger Eric Krasno Band, which saw the guitarist further exploring blues and pop, Kraz decided to lean out the EKB lineup. He would soon shift gears into the organ-trio format he was already quite comfortable with, thanks to his two decades with revolutionary NYC funk-jazz crew Soulive.

Eric Krasno Trio ft. Reed Mathis 

[Video: Jeff Thorpe]

At Sweetwater Music Hall, Bob Weir‘s cozy container in Marin County, CA, E3 stormed out of the gates with an old favorite in “Fire Eater.” It was clear from the very first song that this was some serious business as Kraz deftly navigated the fretboard of a Paul Reed Smith ‘Silver Sky’, the John Mayer signature model that Eric has had a very public love affair with in recent months. Kraz really made the state-of-the-art axe sing, as he was able to mine a myriad of tones from it. At one point I closed my eyes and could have sworn he’d reverted back to his trusty signature Ibanez hollow-body, but alas I was mistaken—the PRS Silver Sky can actually mimic the boogaloo-geetar sweet spots of a Melvin Sparks. In addition, Kraz would turn on a dime and channel an immortal wail, while conveying the softer textures when comping chords—those voicings had a certain silvery sheen too. The bandleader spent the remainder of the first set settling into that bluesy singer-songwriter vibe, leaning heavily into vocal tracks found on his most recent LP, Blood from a Stone, including “Torture”, “Jezebel”, “On The Rise”,”Please Ya”, and “Unconditional Love.”

In E3, Krasno holds onto vibrant drummer Eric Kalb from the Eric Krasno Band; this cat is nothing short of a lifer who’s logged time with The Greyboy Allstars and was the heartbeat of seminal Connecticut funk phenoms Deep Banana Blackout. In addition to the tunes and Kalb, Krasno also was keen to retain much of the loose approach and jam aesthetic from his solo quintet. To fill out the E3 trio, Krasno recruited another Eric, last name Finland, a Berklee-schooled, NYC-based keyboardist. Eric Finland competently sings backup harmonies, and is fluent in Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes, and occasionally busts out some nimble keyboard basslines with a nifty left hand. The three Erics come together to comprise an unassuming contingent, and onstage they gelled together quite nicely and interpolated the various eras of Krasno’s storied career and catalog with newfound enthusiasm and professional touch.

Eric Krasno Trio ft. Reed Mathis 

[Video: Jeff Thorpe]

Midnight North’s Graham Lesh, son of GD bassist Phil Lesh, sat in on a few numbers for the Thursday Sweetwater engagement, while on Friday, local bass hero Reed Mathis (Electric Beethoven, ex-JFJO) joined E3 for much of it’s freewheeling second set. The final frame focused on a selection of classic covers given the Kraz treatment, and the addition of Mathis served to solidify the sound, and embolden the trio to step into themselves and the music.

Beginning with the Grant Green arrangement of Miles Davis’ “Jan Jan”, Kraz was unhinged on the Silver Sky, rippin’ and runnin’ like a bat out of hell; Mathis’s inventive bass playing the perfect foil for Kraz and company to really get their mojo workin’. On a sludgy re-imagination of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Manic Depression”, Krasno summoned a Fender-fried wail that smoked us into a perpetual purple haze before steering the ship into “Scarlet Begonias”, to the delight of the Deadhead denizens of Marin County. What is a Kraz gig without the Fab Four? Rest assured, E3 made sure to “Get Back” to where they once belonged. A Jerry Garcia Band favorite, “That’s What Love Will Make You Do”, sent us blissed out into the street and on the road home, skippin’-and-a-singin’ into a starry-night sky.

Eric Krasno Trio ft. Reed Mathis – “Jan Jan”

[Video: Jeff Thorpe]

For a full list of Eric Krasno’s upcoming performances, ticketing, and more information, head to his website.

Setlist: Eric Krasno Trio (EK3) | Sweetwater Music Hall | Mill Valley, CA | 9/20/2019

Set One: Fire Eater, Torture, Big Brother, That’s Alright, Jezebel, On the Rise, Please Ya, Unconditional Love

Set Two: Jan Jan, For Granted, Up & Out, Manic Depression > Scarlet Begonias > Manic Depression, Get Back

Encore: That’s What Love Will Make You Do

(set 2 & encore w/ special guest Reed Mathis)

Words: B.Getz