Concert Review: Dixie Dregs with Steve Morse Band — Culture Room, Ft. Lauderdale, FL — April 26, 2024

Review of the Dixie Dregs/Steve Morse Band concert at the Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale, FL — April 26, 2024

Dixie Dregs with Steve Morse Band
Culture Room, Ft. Lauderdale, FL — April 26, 2024
Review By Nick Tate
Photos: Larry Marano Photography

Legendary guitarist Steve Morse has been a much sought-after hired gun over the years, performing with everyone from Kansas to Deep Purple to Flying Colors. But Morse’s best work has always been with his own band, the Dixie Dregs, and his power-prog trio, the Steve Morse Band. Friday, at the intimate Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale, he demonstrated why this is so — delivering a potent double-shot of prog-rock fusion with the Dregs and his own Steve Morse Band trio opening the show.

Steve Morse – Larry Marano Photography

From the get-go, two things were immediately apparent:
No. 1: Morse has not lost even a molecule of the magic that have made the Dregs such an enduring, if under-the-radar, collective since the 1970s, despite some struggles with arthritis that have forced him to transform his precise, lightning-speed fretwork technique.

No. 2: The concert was a striking showcase of Morse’s five-decade-long career, which has inspired a fervent cult-like following. But this show was no nostalgia act. Stellar new arrangements lent a new sheen and shine to the classic Dregs and SMB tracks on the setlists, wowing the Morse faithful.

For longtime fans, including this reviewer, the performance was a revelation. (A personal aside: I’ve been following Morse since first hearing the Dregs in college in the late 1970s. One of the first concerts I reviewed was a Dregs show in 1981, which ran with an accompanying interview with Morse and a critique of the band’s then-new album, Dregs of the Earth, in my college newspaper. Looking back, Morse and Co. sounded just as fresh and inventive at the Culture Room as back in the day, when the Dregs were first making their bones in the business.)

Photo by The Prog Report

Morse opened the show with his SMB trio — featuring longtime bassist Dave LaRue and guest drummer Dru Betts, filling in for Van Romaine — with a blazing take of the gnarly funk-rocker “Name Dropping” from 2009’s “Out Standing in Their Field.” The hour-long set that followed was a compelling warmup that established the tone for the evening. Morse led LaRue and Betts through a handful of the strongest tracks from SMB’s eight studio albums, including the propulsive “Relentless,” the lilting Scottish ballad “Highland Wedding” and the scorching prog-rocker “Cruise Control.”

After a 30-minute break, Morse returned to the stage with three of the four other founding members of the Dregs — Allen Sloan (violin), Andy West (bass) and Rod Morgenstein (drums) — and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess, guesting on keyboards. The set opened (appropriately) with “Freefall,” the first track from the Dregs’ 1977 debut album of the same name. For the next 90 minutes, the crew delivered a greatest-hits-live catalogue of the band’s best work over the past 50 years, showcasing 14 tracks culled from the band’s 11 studio albums. Throughout, the collective wowed the wildly enthusiastic crowd with amped-up renditions of fan favorites, rarities and a few surprising musical detours, including a brief cover of the Allman Brother’s “Jessica,” folded seamlessly into the Dreg’s own “Bloodsucking Leeches.”

Steve Morse and Allen Sloan – Larry Marano Photography

In an evening packed with so many standout moments, it would be difficult to pick out the best of the lot. But here’s a few of the most striking highlights of the performance:

• The strong connection and almost telepathic interplay among the players was evident throughout the show, creating a sense that this band of musical brothers has a bond that transcends the music. During the lysergic-jazz workout “Odyssey,” celestial semi-classical ballad “Hereafter,” countrified-funk rocker “The Bash” and Zappa-meets-Return-to-Forever jam, “I’m Freaking Out,” Morse and his bandmates traded call-and-response solos that had the feel of intense and interesting conversations among lifelong pals. Often, Morse would smile and nod after one of Sloan’s fiery violin leads, Rudess’s classical-jazz keyboard runs, West’s bass-as-lead-guitar lines or Morgenstein thundering drum fills.

Rod Morgenstein – Larry Marano Photography

• Rudess, the only non-founding member of the collective, gamely stepped in on keyboards. Working from sheet music, the Grammy Award-winning keyboard wiz nonetheless delivered a raft of spontaneous solos that managed to be loyal to songs’ original lines but also brought something new to the mix. That extra X Factor was perfectly in keeping with the Dreg’s signature adventurous musical spirit and added a new dimension to the band’s sound. Highpoints included several spellbinding Bach-meets-rock solos on “Hereafter,” “Leprechaun Promenade” and the chamber-rock etude “Go for Baroque.”

Jordan Rudess – Larry Marano Photography

“It was a lot of songs to learn,” Rudess said, in a brief interview after the show. “But it’s really a fun musical situation. It’s cool music, Steve’s a wonderful composer and he’s a high-level musician — the kind of ear he has, the kind of composition he does. We just kind of relate to each other musically in a lot of ways.”

• For the rousing concert-closer, “Take it Off the Top,” Morse invited LaRue and Betts back to the stage, creating with a booming twin-drum, double-bass rhythm section that shook the rafters and brought the house down. The frenetic prog-metal rocker closed out the evening on a high — and loud! — note.

Throughout the show, Morse’s soulful fretwork — by turns mournful, bluesy, prayerful, subtle and searing — and his compositional inventiveness was, as ever, the engine driving the Dregs train. He structures and arranges his compositions to allow the band to create a chunky musical foundation but also to stretch out on their own in places. Over the top of every piece, Morse’s well-crafted solos soar — dove-like — above the complex, often turbulent ensemble band performances. It’s a thrilling, stirring mix that makes clear why critics have consistently hailed the musicianship of Morse and the band, which has garnered six Grammy Award nominations over the years.

Steve Morse – Larry Marano Photography

It’s worth nothing that while Morse has had to make some technical adjustments to his technique, those accommodations have had virtually no evident impact on the fluidity or virtuosity of his still-dazzling fretwork live. Yes, he has resorted to fingerpicking some of more taxing passages and straight-arming a few of the speedier solos (flexing at the elbow to keep his wrist stationary when shredding — the result of bone-fusion surgery on his right hand). But the way he continues to play with such formidable technique and feel is both remarkable and admirable. At 69, an age when many musicians begin dialing back, Morse seems only to be charging ahead, undaunted by the demands of playing such challenging material at an extraordinarily high level for so many years.

Another challenge Morse has had to overcome: The new Dregs tour — the first since 2018, when the band returned to the stage for the first time since the 1980s — comes in the wake of Morse’s wife Janine’s death in February. In a brief interview after the show, Morse said that makes this particular tour all the more special and meaningful. In a way, he said, performing helps him feel connected to his wife and also cope with his grief.

“She liked what I was doing with the Dregs, Flying Colors and the Steve Morse Band,” he said. “She’s been with me all around the world; she used to sell T-shirts for us. At the gigs it’s something where I can actually have moments where I don’t think about it. But when I get back to the room, and I’m by myself, then it all crashes.

“So, I just felt like being busy was a good thing for me. Touring really really keeps you busy. There are four things you have to do every day — eat, sleep, practice and get to the gig. And sometimes you can only pick two each day, and usually the ones that get picked are practice and go to the gig, and maybe you get in a little bit of sleeping and a little bit of eating.”
Morse added at the timing for the reunion is partly out of a recognition that there may not be many more opportunities for the Dregs to reconnect and tour. “We’re not going to get any younger,” he said. “It was now or never.”

Morse was less forthcoming about the prospects of a new Dregs album, but acknowledged he is working on new material for the band.
“Yeah, I’ve been doing some writing; we always have stuff,” he said. “But I don’t know. I mean recording has become different than it ever was. It’s something you have to pay out of pocket to do now.”

Other Dregs members echoed Morse’s sentiments in brief post-concert interviews. LaRue, who’s been performing with Morse since 1988, added that the two have been working on new compositions for a forthcoming Steve Morse Band album. “What will happen, I don’t know,” he said. “But we have made significant progress toward a new album.”

Sloan, an anesthesiologist by day, said he’s hopeful that the Dregs might chart a new chapter in the months ahead and even produce a new album. “I’ll be there if Steve wants me,” he said. “I’ll be glad to do it. But I don’t know if he’s got it in mind.” Sloan added that the new tour felt like a reunion of old friends after spending a long time apart. “It was exciting, it was quite a thrill,” he said. “It’s a lot of relearning, I didn’t remember all the subtleties at all, and the power is getting it just right.”

Steve Morse and Andy West – Larry Marano Photography

Morgenstein and West, who first started playing with Morse in 1970, also said they’re up for working on new Dregs material and charting a new chapter for the band in the months ahead. “We don’t know,” Morgenstein said. “We shall see.” West added that if the band were to record a new album or keep touring, it would merely be a continuation of what the Dregs have done all along. In that respect, West said, the current tour is really not a reunion, per se.

“It’s not really like that,” he said. “It’s like a thread that runs continuously. We’ve known each other for so long and we’ve seen each other at different points and time and connected in different ways. But this is just a more poignant time because we’re all getting older…and because of Janine’s death. So, there’s an establishment of a permanent line that just runs through our lives together. And it’s not only music — it’s just living. And it’s a very cool thing.

“We’re like a family, it’s a band. There’s so much going on in everybody’s lives, it was kind of a miracle that this came together and it’s great. And I think it’s just very special for all of us and I’m thrilled. The main thing about this is, we all think people should hear this music. And that’s really why we’re still doing it. We love it. We love playing it. And we think people should hear it. And if people who hear it love it, why not have more people hear it?”

The Dregs “Anachronicity Tour 2024” continues through May, with new additional dates just added for several northeast performances. The band also has tentative plans to return to the road this fall.

Photo by The Prog Report


Steve Morse Band:
1. Name Dropping
2. Relentless
3. On the Pipe
4. Vista Grande
5. John Deer Letter
6. Rising Power
7. Cruise Missile

Dixie Dregs:
1. Freefall
2. Sleeveless in Seattle
3. Country House Shuffle
4. Odyssey
5. Leprechaun Promenade
6. Go for Baroque
7. Hereafter
8. Night of the Living Dregs
9. Divided We Stand
10. I’m Freaking Out
11. The Bash
12. Cruise Control
13. Bloodsucking Leeches
14. Take it Off the Top

1 comment

  • Great interview. And always a treat to see Steve Morse Band and Dixie Dregs !!

Support The Prog Report

If you like what we do please support us on Ko-fi


Subscribe to our email list: