Lydia Pense - lead vocals; Eric Dunan - trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals; Rob Zuckerman - saxophone, flute, vocals; Steve Dunne - guitar, vocals; Dave Hartel - keyboards, vocals; Alex Sarmiento (sp?) - bass, vocals; Chris Sandoval - drums; Mike Morgan - congas, percussion; Danielle Pense - harmony vocals on encore
Along with Tower of Power, Cold Blood pioneered the Bay Area's brass heavy funk-rock sound, which came to be known as "East Bay Grease." After debuting at the Fillmore in 1969 and initially signing to Bill Graham's San Francisco Records label, they developed into one of the most popular high-energy bands in the Bay Area. Fronted by the proverbial little girl with a huge voice, Lydia Pense's powerful vocal chops were impossible to ignore, and despite frequent personnel changes within the band, Cold Blood always attracted inspired and creative musicians and remained a crack unit.
Cold Blood seemed to be overshadowed by Chicago Blood Sweat And Tears, Tower Of Power, and other more commercially successful horn-fueled bands of the era, but their biggest curse was the critics and reviewers who were relentlessly comparing Lydia to Janis Joplin (who, in reality praised Lydia and the band, including their blistering cover of "Piece Of My Heart"). This, combined with questionable management, frequent personnel changes, and weak album distribution relegated the group to limited success. Cold Blood appeared at the Fillmores often and at many major concerts and festivals but remained most popular in the Bay Area.
Cold Blood's sixth album, Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, released during the bicentennial year of 1976, would be the group's last studio effort of the 1970s. Lydia settled into seclusion on the outskirts of Sonora for most of the 1980s, raising her daughter Danielle. As her daughter approached adulthood, Lydia again began pursuing music and by 1988 had recruited the musicians who would begin a new phase of Cold Blood's horn-driven rock and soul-drenched sound.
A live album titled Live Blood was issued in 2008, proving Cold Blood's appeal had not diminished. Featuring classic older songs as well as new material, this album proved to be what Cold Blood fans had long been waiting for: a sizzling live set that remained true to the pulsating horn-laced sound that defined the band, fronted by an incomparable singer with an astonishingly powerful voice.
The Cold Blood performance presented here was recorded a decade earlier and not only contains a previously undocumented lineup, but unlike the live album, includes an entire unedited performance. Recorded at the reopened Fillmore Auditorium before a hometown crowd, this concert featured Cold Blood performing between old friends Country Joe McDonald and another hometown favorite, It's A Beautiful Day. Over the course of 90 minutes, Cold Blood tear through highlights of their catalogue, with an emphasis on material from their first four albums. Despite the circumstances, this is no nostalgia-fest and Cold Blood deliver a highly engaging set that rivals the fireworks of earlier lineups.
Joining Lydia here are two talented Bay Area horn players, trumpeter Eric Dunan and Rob Zuckerman, who together provide a punch rivaling any previous Cold Blood horn section. Veteran musician Steve Dunne serves as guitarist and band director and both he and keyboardist Dave Hartel prove sensitive to the band's original dynamic while contributing their own sense of style. For the critical rhythm section, bassist Alex Sarmiento (sp?), drummer Chris Sandoval and percussionist Mike Morgan are all on board. Together, they recreate the tight in-the-pocket propulsion that serves as the backbone of Cold Blood's sound.
Right from the start, the group's enthusiasm is infectious, and following the introduction, guitarist and band director Steve Dunne makes it known just how excited they are to be playing the Fillmore again after all these years. The set kicks off with the group warming up on the Donny Hathaway instrumental, "Valdez In The Country." Hathaway, primarily known as a gifted singer/songwriter, had produced Cold Blood's third album, First Taste of Sin. One of Hathaway's lesser-known compositions, "Valdez" serves as an excellent warm-up exercise for the musicians who immediately lay down inspired grooves. Both Zuckerman and Dunan deliver impressive solos, stretching it out to nearly twice the length of the version recorded on their third album. Following this jazzy instrumental opener, Lydia Pense joins the group onstage and the true fireworks begin as they ease into a jam that builds into Willie Dixon's "I Just Wanna Make Love to You." One of the group's signature songs from the beginning and deviating significantly from standard interpretations, this packs a serious wallop and immediately establishes that Pense's voice is as sultry and gritty as ever. Throughout the remarkable performance, Pense proves that her voice, now more mature and seasoned, had lost none of its power or expressiveness.
Drummer Chris Sandoval next leads the way into another First Taste of Sin track, "No Way Home." The group locks into a solid groove with great horn arrangements and Pense belting it out. One of the early highlights of this set is next when they pair up two debut album tracks. With Pense as soulful and as full of fire as ever, this hard-hitting sequence begins with the R&B fueled "I'm A Good Woman," which then segues directly into the smoldering blues of "Let Me Down Easy."
Next the band tackles the funky dance number "Back Here Again" from their 1976 album Lydia Pense And Cold Blood, a title which takes on added relevance in light of the band's return to the Fillmore. Another First Taste of Sin track follows with "My Lady Woman." Written by former Cold Blood drummer, Sandy McKee, this showcases the deep expressiveness Pense is capable of and serves as the perfect precursor to the soulful vocals to follow on "Wait For You" (a new song which wouldn't see release until the 2005 Transfusion album) and a cover of jazz pianist Billy Taylor's classic "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free." Countless artists have covered the latter, which opened Cold Blood's debut album, but with the exception of Nina Simone, Pense may indeed be the most soulful and engaging interpreter ever to cover this song.
Only one song from the band's second album Sisyphus is mined for this show, but it's a superb choice, "Funky on My Back." Here, Cold Blood gets an opportunity to stretch out a bit. Zuckerman switches to flute on this number infusing it with an airy, jazzy feel, and Dunan (on trumpet) and Dunne (on guitar) both take impressive solos. From the band's 1973 album Thriller, "Baby, I Love You," follows, featuring funky clavinet work from Dave Hartel, lending a Stevie Wonder-esque sound to the proceedings.
For the last song of the set, Pense and Cold Blood pull out all the stops and really work the audience on an expanded rendition of the group's first single, "You Got Me Hummin." Feeding off the responsive audience and with Pense's daughter Danielle joining in, this is an adrenaline injected R&B workout that takes the David Porter/Isaac Hayes Stax classic soaring to another level. This naturally leaves the hometown audience howling for an encore and Cold Blood deliver by returning once again to the First Taste of Sin material and getting down on "Down to the Bone." This encore, as well as nearly everything that preceded it, shows this revamped Cold Blood lineup in a most positive light, creating a near perfect blend of funk, blues, and R&B with tight arrangements and horn-fueled melodies.
This previously undocumented lineup made a strong contribution to an enduring legacy, one that continues to the present day with Pense, Dunne and Zuckerman all still on board. Cold Blood remains a strong and vibrant band with one of the most dynamic, show-stopping lead singers ever.