Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts is a very small venue right in the middle of town. The event was sold out to capacity, seemed about 300 or so. We were meeting up with a small group of folks pre-show to get in early and ended up right up at the stage in front of Jackie.
If you don’t know Jackie Greene’s music, he’s been called the “Prince of Americana” and compared to singer songwriters like Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, two different perspectives on life’s experiences. His songs range from the heavy blues to soulful acoustic to sweet piano ballads. As with singer-songwriters, fans relate to the experiences behind his songs, feel connected to the music for more than just the rhythm of the song but maybe the rhythm of life.
He’s got about 7 CDs, excluding the live and compilations, and he’s in about 6 different gigs he’s in on – the Jackie Greene Band, Acoustic Duo (with Nathan Dale), Weir, Robinson, Greene Trio (with Bob Weir and Chris Robinson), Skinny Singers (with Tim Bluhm), Trigger Hippy (with Joan Osborne, Audley Freed formerly of The Black Crowes now with CRB, Steve Gorman of The Black Crowes, and Nick Govrik of Widespread Panic), and, since 2007, can be seen sitting in with Phil Lesh & Friends.
I can say that this night felt like it would be an upbeat show – there was a buzz in the air, people were mingling and chatting about what they thought the set list would be, the band came out smiling and there were a few times you could hear them laughing it up on stage. The crowd was lively, letting loose a few yelps and whoops here and there all night long.
The first set was a mix of crowd pleasers – “I’m So Gone” is a good rebel song set opener, followed by a lively “Farewell, So Long, Goodbye”, and a rockin rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Deal”. Gotta love that Jackie pays homage to the Dead. After all, Mr. Lesh certainly helped pry some doors wide open for him, asking him to join Phil Lesh & Friends in 2007. Greene has also been known to play “Sugaree,” “Bertha,” “New Speedway Boogie,” “Scarlet Begonias” and “Shakedown Street” to name a few.
And then Jackie picks up the acoustic guitar and harmonica to offer up a song or two that you might just have to bend your ear to hear the tune, just a little. I love the way Nathan Dale gently touches the guitar and makes it sing on the slow songs. He’s like a sweet breeze swirling around the acoustic guitar, filling in the air with just the right touch at just the right moment. “Love Song at 2:00 a.m.” or “Honey, I Been Thinking About You”, or any one of those songs where Jackie grabs the acoustic and let’s Nathan take the lead. The band is getting better and better, and is playing more and more of the soft acoustic songs that typically you’d only get with The Acoustic Duo (Jackie and Nathan) – Zach and the soft swoosh of drums and Jeremy’s low quiet bass like a heartbeat in your chest. And, now we have Steve Taylor tinkling the ivories, maybe (hopefully) full-time. The keys, they really fill out the whole sound. Until recently, we’d only get the sound of the keys when Jackie would put the guitar down every once in a while and move over to the piano. He still does, but now with a full-time all time keyboard man in Mr. Taylor, we get that full band sound all the time. Bonus.
What you have to appreciate about Jackie Greene is that he certainly respects the talent of other musicians, like his band mates. Each one of them is a musician in their own right; even the drummer, Zack Bowden, has about six different gigs he sits in on. This night in Grass Valley offered up one song from each – the second set opened with “Jeremy’s Jam,” which typically features a game of musical chairs with Jeremy Plog on lead guitar (who also has his own band, The Golden Cadillacs), Nathan over on Jeremy’s bass, Steve up on Jackie’s guitar, and Jackie over on keys; then we heard “Felicity,” a very sweet piano infused Steve Taylor song from his album, “Has the Size of the Road Got the Better of You?”; and “Way Down” which is a heavy rock song off of Nathan Dale’s new CD, “Major Key’s Parade” (Nathan had another band years ago, called Sweet Vine. You can find him on Amazon, check it.).
One rockin’ blues classic they’ve been tearing up lately is “Tore Down,” which was added to their repertoire last year. I think I saw it the first time at the Gold County Fair show in September. He may be referred to as “The Prince of Americana” but the boy sure can lay down the blues – and I think he likes it. You know, Jackie’s been doing a little tease lately of Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” from their “Houses of the Holy” album. Just a tease, but maybe someday we’ll get the whole thing.
The encore was a surprising and very sweet “I’ll Let You In,” which I have not been lucky enough to see before. I think the crowd was speechless, aside from a “who-hoo!” and “Ow!” now and then. Once again, Nathan, almost sounding like he was playing a pedal steel guitar, sure knew how to fill the sound around that acoustic guitar, just right.
The next night in Napa was a double-bill with Rusted Root at the Uptown Theatre. It was our understanding that this was originally set as a birthday party for two brothers – one whose favorite band is Rusted Root and the other, you guessed it, Jackie Greene. This was set up as a private party but the original location fell through, so this ended up at Uptown Theatre. They opened the party to sell the balcony seats to the public (lucky us!) and donated the funds from the ticket sales to The Rex Foundation. Nice touch. I had heard rumors about the over eager security and the requirement to stay seated. Really? Sit for Rusted Root AND Jackie Greene? Well, I thought, we’ll just see about that.
We arrived a tad late, missing the beginning of Rusted Root, but early enough to catch at least half of their 14-song set. Since I had originally planned to go solo, I was not sitting with the two people I was traveling with, but we were in the same row. I could see a lot of people in the lower section, way up front, dancing and having a good time. There was a guy next to me and an empty seat next to him. Apparently, his wife was not a happy camper – she had been told by security that she could not dance, but had to sit in her seat because the man sitting behind her could not see. Well, that made for a bit of a tense situation that I certainly wanted no part of, so, beer time! I moved and ended up sitting with my two friends for the rest of Rusted Root as there was an empty seat for me. I recognized a handful of songs, ironically all off of the one Rusted Root CD that happens to be in my collection (“When I Woke”), my favorite being “Send Me on My Way”. They also did a great version of “Cat Turned Blue” right into “All Along the Watchtower” and then right into “Superstitious”. I was also surprised to hear “Suspicious Minds”, an old Mark James song made famous by Elvis Presley and a song my Dad always loved to play.
The second half of the night with the Jackie Greene Band taking the stage was apparently for the other birthday brother (OK, I did mention earlier that this was to be my birthday celebration. Can ya believe it? Jackie did sing happy birthday, uh, but not to me as I had hoped…..). The crowd had thinned out a bit and my friend ran into a guy she knows who is a part of the band’s crew and asks if he can get us better seats. “Sure!” he says, and brings us down to like the fourth or fifth row! Love you dude! He is the main reason I got a few decent shots at the Napa show for ya’ll to enjoy so, may good karma find him over and over.
If you compare the two nights, I think that Grass Valley carried a bit more of a buzz for the band, felt a bit more laid back inside the venue, and I think the band showed it by having a bit more freedom with some of the songs than in Napa. Maybe it was the opening band, it wasn’t all their night, they probably had some requests they had to do (this is my logic for so many repeats).
Each night had more than a handful of special moments that’s for sure. The first set in Grass Valley with “Downhearted”, “Honey, I Been Thinking About You” and “Love Song at 2 am”, and then the second set with the three other band members each shining on their own tune, a 9 ½ minute “Like a Ball and Chain”, and then the beautifully soothing “I’ll Let You In” which left us breathless at the end of the night. Jackie took out the acoustic more often in Grass Valley, only breaking it out twice in Napa– for “Uphill Mountain” and held onto it for “Gone Wanderin’.”
Napa, however, was filled with opportunities for getting deep into the blues, ripping songs wide open to let ‘em bleed. I must say, they must like playing “Deal” because they rocked it out both nights, and they continued rockin’ the blues hard with “Till the Light Comes” (“swing high, ma’ma, swing low. Come and love me baby ‘fore I have to go.” OW!), the “Five Long Years”, left Jackie just aching at the mic – he worked five long years for one woman, and she had the nerve to throw him out – the nerve! Jackie moved over to the keys for “Shaken”, and stayed through “Tell Me Ma’ma, Tell Me Right” (“Tell me baby, or I’m gonna lose my mind”) before getting back to the guitar for the rest of the night.
I think the crowd went a little nuts when they heard the keys start, “Benny and the Jets”, which is one Elton John tune that Jackie is just lovin’ right now, especially with Steve being able to sing the falsetto and they can alternate and share the, “Benny! Benny! Benny! Benny! Benny and the Jetsssssssssssss!”
I can’t forget the “Hollywood” right into the Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows>Taxman>Tomorrow Never Knows” little run they also like doing. Although, I’ve not had the pleasure of hearing “Hollywood” lead into the Beatles before. Hollywood is another one of the songs I love to hear. It’s got a great guitar grind you can move your hips to. Jackie was really getting into it too, flippin’ the guitar to his side and leaning in to the mic. “There’s the band. Hear the band. They’re the hottest in the land.” Yeah, they sure are hot.
I think that the Jackie Greene Band won over a few more hearts that night. There was a man and woman sitting next to me on my right. I could tell they didn’t know many of the Jackie Greene songs. Not just because the woman was enjoying her seat way too much but the man with her, with his shit-eatin’ grin, kept exclaiming “Oh my God!” and “Wow, you’ve seen these guys before!!” Yeah, what a show. Oh, yes, they’re weird and they’re wonderful.
Jackie Greene Band
Center for the Performing Arts, Grass Valley
April 6, 2012
I’m So Gone
Farewell, So Long, Goodbye
Honey, I’ve Been Thinking About You
Love Song at 2 am
Moment of Temporary Color
No Quarter jam>Mexican girl
Jeremy jam (Jeremy Plog song)
So Hard to Find My Way
Felicity (Steve Taylor song)
Stranger in the Sand
Way Down (Nathan Dale song)
Like a Ball and Chain
E. I’ll let You In
Uptown Theatre, Napa
April 7, 2012
Lost In A Crowd
Back To The Earth
Cover Me Up
Food And Creative Love
Laugh As The Sun
Cat Turned Blue> Watchtower> Superstitious
Send Me On My Way
Jackie Greene Band
I’m So Gone
Don’t Let the Devil Take Your Mind
Till the Light Comes
Five Long Years
So Hard to Find My Way
Tell Me Mama, Tell Me Right
B-B-B-Benny and the Jets
Tomorrow Never Knows>
Tomorrow Never Knows
E. Like A Ball and Chain