For me, it was like seeing Jimi Hendrix in the flesh.
John McLaughlin, in my estimation, is the electric guitarist whose influence on several genres of music is nigh on as game-changing as was the walking watershed that was Hendrix. So I spent much of Wednesday's UB Center for the Arts show – the opening night of McLaughlin's "Meeting of the Spirits" joint tour with one of his many musical children, guitarist Jimmy Herring – with my mouth frozen in a grin, my legs bobbing incessantly, rocking back and forth in my seat, hopping to my feet at the end of each tune, and probably driving the unfortunate souls seated behind completely bonkers.
I've been listening to McLaughlin for 35 years, and this was my first time seeing him. Sitting still and keeping quiet was never going to be an option.
Here's how it all went down. Herring and his killer band played first. Their triumphant interplay hit a peak during a take on Miles Davis' "Black Satin" that was simply stunning in its marriage of soulfulness and musicianship. Then McLaughlin and his 4th Dimension Band – bassist Etienne M'Bappe, keyboardist Gary Husband, drummer/vocalist Ranjit Barot – played a set of their own. Finally, both bands joined together for a third set, comprised solely of tunes by McLaughlin's groundbreaking '70s ensemble, Mahavishnu Orchestra.
"Birds of Fire," "Miles Beyond," "Eternity's Breath Parts I & II" – hearing these songs performed live by this eminently gifted ensemble was akin to bursting through the gates of heaven for a particularly fiery and jubilant jam session. It felt like a religious service, but one acknowledging no man-made denomination. I emerged from it a changed man. I hope it sticks.