“Love the staff at the Crystal Bay. Always so friendly! We play 3 nights starting tomorrow. Hope to see y’all here!” This was the post on Jackie’s page the day before the three night run would begin. This is the third year that the Jackie Greene Band would ring in the New Year at the Crystal Bay Club, a small and very sweet venue up on the north shore of beautiful Lake Tahoe. Will this be the last? We don’t know for sure, with Jackie going on tour with The Black Crowes starting in March. Those in attendance were there just in case, knowing this NYE run might be more than special. Aside from a few moments of inattentiveness on NYE from some of the happy drunks in the crowd, it certainly was special.
Of the three nights, I must say the acoustic show was my favorite. THAT is what I came for. There is nothing like it. Just Jackie and Nathan having some unplugged fun, relaxed, joking with the crowd, all bare bones and from the heart. The heart and soul. The soul and heart. Which one is which? Who cares, it is kismet. Ever since I saw them together in Big Sur under the trees, I seek out the special acoustic shows, will travel some distance for those just because they are so very special to be a part of. Last year was my first attending this three night run, the first was acoustic and the second two electric. The Mother Hips joined them last year as well. I also remember there was less snow last year. I think I was the only happy one in town. Don’t get me wrong, the snow is pretty. I like looking at it from the inside of a nice, warm cabin. Growing up in Buffalo, NY, I think you might agree I may have had my share. I know where the snow is if I want to see it. It does not come to visit me anymore. I like it that way.
I hadn’t planned on doing this review, but tend to have my camera in tow cuz ya never know. I left it behind the first night and chatted up the band and venue to get permission to take some shots on the second and third nights. So with no shots to share from the first, we can offer up the set list and a few words to paint you a bit of a picture.
The first night sold out fast with The Mother Hips as the opener, a Tahoe area favorite band. I was a tad tardy, getting there just before 9:00 (show start time) but amazed to see the long line still waiting to get in. We had a booth so maybe that is why we dilly-dallied a bit on our way to the show, but sadly then missed a few songs as we waited in line. Since I was not planning on this write-up, I plum forgot to keep track of any Mother Hips songs and as of this writing, there is no live recording out there for me to listen to and relive the moments for y’all. But, if you know the MHs, you know they rocked the Club out with danceable songs. Their vibe moves them from blues and soul-men to heavy rockers; even punky, funky, or a bit country-fried at times. But, country they are not. They are a seriously hearty band, comfortable in their shoes as they’ve been together for more than 20 years. Inviting Jackie to sit on keys, for all of the songs I was privy to see, added another level of sound to the plethora of genres they pull off successfully.
The Mother Hips, if you are not familiar, are “original California soul” forming back in ’91 in Chico, California. They have undergone a few member changes since then, but co-founders Tim Bluhm (lead guitar/vocals) and Greg Loiacono (guitar/vocals) have always kept the Hips on the right track. John Hofer (drums) and Scott Thunes (bass) are the two newest members, holding down the funk and rhythm to a point where I leaned over to my friend and said, “hum, they almost sound a little punk right now,” to which he agreed. (To add, Thunes played bass with Frank Zappa back in the late 80’s, which may have led me to feel that comment.)
The Jackie Greene band hit the stage after a short break, and played one long set to end the night. Keeping with the feel of rock and blues that the MHs left on the stage, the set list was filled with rockin’ danceable popular Greene songs, with a few softer moments slipped in between the sheets, with “A Moment of Temporary Color”, “Shaken” and “Never Satisfied”. Serious highlight for me came with “So Hard to Find My Way” when Poor Richard made his way back to the song. Those who know I’m a big JG fan also know I’ve been complaining for a bit about missing this line in the song. I’ve even asked the other band members to give Jackie a nudge when the song starts, saying “I’ll yell out from the crowd and you lean over and maybe he’ll remember.” I wondered if he had heard me over the year, yelling, “Don’t forget about Poor Richard!”, or maybe not. Maybe he saw a few of us mention that is what we wanted for Christmas. Maybe there was a reason the verse went on hiatus; sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t. Maybe there is a disconnect to the verse; maybe Poor Richard is a real person and he ain’t poor no more and can afford those banjo strings; or maybe Jackie just plum forgot. Well, whatever the reason (or lack thereof), we are happy to have him back.
Must include a few other mentionable songs with “Grue” (an upbeat, light song of Nathan Dale’s), “Animal”, and Jeremy’s annual Lynyrd Skynyrd pick with “Needle and the Spoon” – yeah, kind of took a few of us by surprise and in a good way. C’mon, it’s Lynyrd Skynyrd for gosh sakes! The 20+ minute “New Speedway Boogie” – filled with gooey jams that could have been The Allmans or maybe The Dead or The Band. Or, maybe just the boys feeling the space and sound of the room and letting whatever happens, happen. The encore was “The Weight”, letting The Band out of the barn. I kind of heard them noodle that one for a second and lost it. When they hit the stage for the encore, my friend asked what I thought they’d play. I actually mentioned that song and he looked at me as if to say, “really?” I was not surprised when they did it as it was one of the special moments from the Fillmore run in November.
The second night was the very special acoustic night, a down to the bare bones performance on acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica, and piano. The first time I saw this acoustic duo with Jackie Greene and Nathan Dale was, lucky enough under the moon, stars and redwood trees down in Big Sur at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. As I recall, it was one very special and very unforgettable night. For this New Years run, you could grab a “VIP” ticket to a soirée at an upstairs lounge along with early access into the Club to select your seat about an hour before the show started. The extra bonus was a little special time to chat with Jackie as he enjoyed drinks and appetizers along with us.
With the full set list below, I will pull out the sweet highlights, or those I felt were special moments from our candle-lit date as Jackie would call it (there were lit candles on the front of the stage, setting off a lovely, warm glow the whole evening). I gotta love the ability to multi-task so I have to comment on the foot-tappin’ shoulder-shimmyin’ “Cell Block #9” when Jackie has to play the guitar and sing or kill it on the harmonica. I’m certain it ain’t easy (OK, so I know a dude who plays guitar and says it ain’t easy). The always smooth and soulful “Captain’s Daughter” and “Love Song at 2:00 am”; Jackie singing sweetly, strumming the acoustic as Nathan dances around the chords with delicate notes. There was a brief discussion about the heart and soul of the band, Jackie first saying Nathan was the soul and he the heart, then quipping that they can switch the roles on and off throughout the week. It was a relaxed evening, lots of smiles on stage and jokes back and forth with the audience; that feeling found its way into their playing, sounding light and breezy at times and deep and powerful at others. The set ended with an especially beautiful “Brokedown Palace” with Jackie remaining at the keys after a heartbreaking “Bright Star”, a song Jackie wrote after the passing of a big musical influence, Ray Charles.
The second set was just as awesome, for lack of better words! And I end that sentence with enthusiasm for the next! Why? Cuz I’m gonna say the opener was “Judgment Day” – yay! Whoop! Ow! Once, last year, I kind of asked if they would play this for my birthday. I quipped, “It’s just like ‘Gone Wanderin’” when they said they sort of didn’t know it well because it isn’t normally a part of the repertoire. Slightly disappointed back then but easily over it, I was a happy fan to hear them pull this one out, especially on the acoustic night.
My next mentionable is the “Everything to Me”, with its easy sway and smiling lyrics about a girl and her helpless heart, her thing for mistletoe; her gentle touch, her misty eyes and the champagne in her soul; how she’s crazy about candlelight and roses (we won’t talk about how she makes love……). It certainly made ya feel good as the guitars move you from side to side or dance you around the room – which is hard cuz that was a seated affair!
The next three were all covers, from George Strait to Bob Dylan to an old blues standard covered very uniquely by many different bands over the years; they brought us from country through folk to the blues. Out of the three, I suppose my favorite was the “Don’t Think Twice its Alright” because I really love this Dylan tune. How can you not, with the sweet soul of the harmonica and the twang of the banjo, one of my favorite instruments, together just making it a little more special than it already is.
While “Shaken” ended up being a repeat, it was different this acoustic night, stripped down so that you could hear the vibrato in Jackie’s voice. And, Nathan’s harmonies were more noticeable as well without the extra thunder of the full band behind them. Still, anything that gets him over to the keys is always a treat. And who doesn’t love “Tell Me Mama”? A song that can just make you fall over with angst, the way the blues should.
The last of the set and the encore get a wow and whoa, respectively. “So Many Roads” is a new edition to Jackie’s set list and he refers to it as one of his favorites. It does just seem perfect for him, as if he wrote some of it himself. The “Down in the Valley of Woe”, possibly the first I’ve seen this, was very heavy and demanding on the rhythm guitar and harmonica and yet stretchy and slithery with Nathan pulling the strings or sliding up and down the neck of the guitar. It’s a great encore, a very weighty and memorable song.
You could feel the energy in the air as you woke on New Year’s Eve day. It was quite beautiful outside, warmer than the day before. The hotel I was staying in was getting all gussied up for its annual, “Black and White Ball”, with speakers, lights and stages for the DJs and bands and couches galore for the expected masses to melt into. It would be mayhem upon our return, but that is another story for another website….. Over at the CBC, things would be much more toned down, at times so soft you had to really bend your ear to hear the tune, and not just because of the slightly louder, more liquored crowd that night. The night would start off with Jackie’s brother Alex Nelson and band-mate Tim Picchi, bass player for Walking Spanish entertaining the crowd for a handful of originals. A short but sweet set you could tell they were enjoying themselves up there, exchanging big smiles now and again. A mixed crowd, as some were completely missing out on what was happening on stage and some very attentive and shouting out for more – I wish there was more of the latter. If you were to categorize Walking Spanish, you would place them in the rock ‘n roll or indie column with the ability to also appear in the jam-band column as they can certainly hold on to those extended jams. Toned down, they came across as more folk and soft soul, giving a tenderer feel to their songs.
The crowd was anxious to get the Jackie Greene Band on the stage and by the time they hit, the room was filled with party hats and noise makers and more people had made their way closer to the stage. Starting the night off with “Gone Wanderin’”, this garnished more than a few hoots and hollers from the happy crowd. The next two crowd pleasers were certainly “Bertha” and “Mexican Girl”, even Jackie noting how he could see folks out in the audience mouthing the words out along to the song. Sandwiched in between were two songs a bit more on the sweeter side. The “Honey I Been Thinking ‘Bout You” will always make the girls swoon and the “One Bad Love” will make you wonder if the one bad love was the girl he couldn’t stop thinking about.
The heavy songs of the set have to be the “Stranger in the Sand” and the “Way Down”. Stranger is a slow and trippy song that makes you wonder a bit yourself about this strange world we live in. The song lifts up towards the end, with a chance for the guitars to soar high, electrifying the air. Nathan’s “Way Down” is even heavier as it thrashes you back and forth, ripping at your emotions and destroying your being. Strong guitars from both Jackie and Nathan, heavy bass and rhythm and slamming keys make for a tremendous thunder on stage. This song is on Nathan’s newest release, “Major Key’s Parade” – go get it on Amazon or iTunes or find him playing live somewhere out in California and meet the man himself.
The second set would start with a NYE countdown into “Ball and Chain”, a hip-swingin’ shoulder-shakin’ totally danceable song. My other one of these types of favorites tossed into the set has to be the “Hollywood” – ya can’t help but to get up and move to that one. But wait, before I mention the closers, I must mention the touching way they perform the “Uphill Mountain” and share lyrics that are so relatable at times you think the song may have mentioned something in your life. And “Grindstone”, slightly more upbeat this performance, but with that same connection to the everyday life, the daily grind that we all wake to that we sometimes wish was just a little less than daily.
I will definitely mention the “Scarlet Begonias”, another good Dead tune that Jackie can rip on. A bit scorchin’ this was I must remark, with the high notes busting a hole in the ceiling, or at least the energy was there to make it happen. The crowd really ate it all up, from the “Hollywood” through the Beatles jams to the last note of the “Scarlet”, barely a crumb of insanity was left on the dance floor, not even big enough for a mouse.
All of that excitement just hung on, and on, and on. Now, normally, we would enjoy that, any musician would. But, when a man is standing on stage, alone with his guitar, pouring out his soul, giving up the melancholy “Sweet Somewhere Bound”, it means you shut the f#*% up! I will take this opportunity to apologize for the inattentive members of the audience, especially the one down front who sang louder than you. Good lord, take a hint people, when the musician stops singing that means he wants you to as well! It is sad that this ended the night, left the air a bit stale, took the wind out of the sail, or put a damper on what could have been divine. At any rate, that is one of my favorite songs and I’m certain it was lovely, or what I heard of it anyway.
Here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to the Jackie Greene Band – may your music bring you to new places and higher spaces! What’s in store for 2013? We know the Sweetwater shows might be the last for a while. As mentioned, Jackie Greene will be headed out on tour for a while with the reconnected Black Crowes. We hope to get a few Jackie Greene Band shows tossed in now and then, or at least an acoustic treat with the amazingly talented and soulful Nathan Dale. Keep your ears and eyes open for any one of these fellas – Jackie (of course), Nathan, Jeremy Plog, Steve Taylor, and Zack Bowden. May their future be so bright, you have to wear shades while in their presence.
Sat, 12/29 (Mother Hips opened)
Don’t Let the Devil Take Your Mind, Farewell So Long Goodbye, I’m So Gone, A Moment of Temporary Color, Medicine, So Hard to Find My Way, Shaken, Tore Down, Grue (ND song), Never Satisfied, Animal, Needle and the Spoon, Till the Light Comes, New Speedway Boogie* E. The Weight*
*w/Greg Loiacono from the Mother Hips
Sun, 12/30 (acoustic show with Nathan Dale)
Set 1: I Don’t Live in a Dream, I’m So Gone, Cell Block #9, Captain’s Daughter, Love Song at 2:00 am, Never Satisfied, Bright Star, Brokedown Palace
Set 2: Judgment Day, Another Love Gone Bad, A Moment of Temporary Color, Everything to Me, When Did You Stop Loving Me?, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Shaken, Tell Me Mama, So Many Roads E. Down in the Valley of Woe
NYE, Mon, 12/31 (Alex Nelson and Tim Picchi of Walking Spanish opened)
Set 1: Gone Wanderin’, Honey I Been Thinkin’ ‘Bout You, One Bad Love, Bertha, Mexican Girl, Five Long Years, Stranger in the Sand, Way Down, Spooky Tina
Set 2: Ball ‘n Chain, Uphill Mountain, I Don’t Live in a Dream, Shaken, Grindstone, Hollywood>Tomorrow Never Knows>Taxman>Low Rider Jam, Scarlet Begonias E. Sweet Somewhere Bound