On Monday night in Brooklyn, recently-formed supergroup The New Stew, recreated the underappreciated live album Bill Withers: Live from Carnegie Hall. Walking onto the unusually danceable floor of the Bowl during the opening classic “Use Me”, you had the sense that those in attendance were not only there to hear Withers’ tunes, but also to see these well practiced musicians cook up something special.
“Friend of Mine” concluded with Yonrico Scott (longtime member of The Derek Trucks Band) abandoning his percussion kit, grabbing a bongo, and joining lead singer Corey Glover (Living Colour/ Galactic) at the front of the stage while he beat the drum so hard that the audience could see wood chips flying off the seemingly handmade mallet. As a side note, this band was not a cover band, but a tribute band, and these sizzling improvisations continued to come to life all night while staying true to the set list created by Mr. Withers over 40 years prior. Wither’s first hit, “Ain’t No Sunshine” found Glover pouring his heart out over the microphone while Roosevelt Collier closed his eyes and sent Withers a “thank you” in the form of “sacred steel” lap guitar notes. After the song faded away, Glover asked the room, “Why these songs so old and still so relevant,” which felt like the theme of the evening.
On the day after Mother’s Day, “Grandma’s Hands” felt appropriately placed and gave the audience one more slow groove before jumping into “World Keeps Going Around.” Dave Yoke (Susan Tedeschi Band) on the 6-string, provided some friendly soloing competition with Collier on lap steel. The crowd ate it up during the uplifting rendition, which led to the first true love song of the night, “Let Me in Your Life.” In any great set list, the artist develops peaks and valleys from slow songs to barn-burners (or Bowl burners in this case). “Better Off Dead” out of the aforementioned song was definitely the transition piece missing from this beautiful puzzle. In the 15 years of the songwriter’s performing career, Withers became know as the “Troubadour of Soul,” covering many different genres. This one can definitely be filed as “F” for FUNK! Kevin Scott’s (Col. Bruce Hampton’s Pharaoh Gummit) bass spiced up the stew while Jared Stone (Stone’s Stew) added flavor from behind the drum kit.
One thing missing from the original live recording was the witty banter provided by Withers in regards to his band and what influenced the writing of many of the tracks. In true tribute fashion, Glover connected with the audience in the same way when he stated “I wish I was down there watching that” in reference to Collier’s boiling hot solo during “For My Friend.” “I Can’t Write Left Handed” is like an R&B version of a wartime Johnny Cash song, which makes sense considering Withers shared some similarities in terms of the songwriters’ backgrounds. The two were humble, had a unique sense of humor and were proud to fight for independence and entertain the country they served (coincidentally Withers was born of the fourth of July). Another similarity between the two icons is their respect for their fellow man and few tunes cover that topic better than “Lean On Me.” After so many magical moments in the evening, it is hard to pick one highlight, but “Lean On Me” appeared to be the most anticipated song of the night as Withers fans new and old hugged it out during this spirit-lifter. The extended “call me” refrain was repeated almost a dozen times as the audience and band came together to complete a touching duo of slower tunes.