It was a Happy Birthday celebration for Jackie – and here’s to another raging trip around the sun! JBO has been in the house for the last two celebrations at The Fillmore, 2012 and 2014. Well, technically three, but this writer wasn’t working with JBO in 2011…… And, with no party scheduled in 2013, due to his gig with The Black Crowes, I was looking forward to this year’s celebration, big or small, cuz Jackie Greene’s birthday parties sure are fun! Seriously.
While I had to skip the first of the two scheduled nights (commitments, commitments, commitments), Saturday night’s celebration spanned over three hours and included guests Mark Karan and Jason Crosby, both of who have known and shared the stage with Mr. Greene many times in the past. This year’s celebration was a bit quieter than others, one less night and fewer special invitees as it seems all of Jackie’s musical friends had other commitments this year as well. Matter not, as it’s not really about the guests anyway, it’s about the birthday fella. And we do love this guy. Withdrawals were tough, with rare a show in 2013 so there is a large core that is happy to have this thing back on track. Speaking of back on track, as you may know, there is a new album coming. He’s been scattering new songs in and on the set lists this year, more so now than earlier, announcements have been made that recording is going well and that we should be treated to new music in the Spring of 2015. Boy are we ready!
This year would be a Friday-Saturday two-fer, rather than the Wednesday, Friday, Saturday three-fer, and both nights, as in the past, Jackie would invite some new musicians to open the shows. Inviting stripped down versions of The Coffis Brothers (http://coffisbrothers.bandcamp.com) for Friday and Tango Alpha Tango (http://www.tangoalphatango.com) for Saturday, they would both give quiet yet intensified acoustic performances, starting the evening’s off a little more low key. I was bummed to miss The Coffis Brothers on Friday, and if you’ve read my stuff before, you know I dig these guys. For Saturday, the stage was made to look even larger, supporting a solo performer. Singer/guitar player Nathan Trueb, from a band called Tango Alpha Tango (Portland, Oregon), stood up there all his own to entertain us with intriguing lyrics and a variety of acoustic sounds, as he conjured up guitar slaps and toe taps to emphasize the energy behind his performance. Playing those smooth, rolling songs in “I’m Coming Home” (I’m guessing the title of this from the lyrics?), and then hitting the crowd with intense blues in “Black Cloud” – I really dug that one……. so much I looked it up when I got home and found a more electrified version that really hits hight the blues bar. A nice, memorable one for me was his cover of Dylan’s, “Girl From the North Country”, a song kind of made for Trueb’s gritty tone… A nice set of sweet soft acoustic songs like “Well, well, well”, and others maybe not so sweetly played, rather strummed with furry, such as “Noisy Motorcycle Blues” played on the electric, as it should have been. Closing with a loud and bluesy, “All Mine Blues” he poured it out, his raspy voice fitting in with the picture being painted, banging furiously on the guitar to create his own drum, driving the song with an affirmative beat, and egging the crowd into a primal scream of a sort. It’s hard to hold the attention of a large crowd like that, especially alone with your guitar and playing to a new crowd who might not know your musical offerings. Nathan Trueb did just that, however, for a nice 45 minute set. Yeah, I’d go see ’em if they came around again.
A short set break and the crowd was ready for the birthday to start. I look over my shoulder and see Jackie’s team handing out party hats to the folks a few feet deep from the rail, and a woman hands a larger hat back to them for Jackie to wear. I wiggle my way into the pit area to snap a few of the happy crowd, when I notice the lights dim and people begin to sing. Turning around, there is a young girl on stage holding a cake in front of Jackie. Wearing a large smile, he seems genuinely touched by the crowd sing-a-long, takes a bit of a reluctant bow, smiles, makes a wish (I assume, of course. But who doesn’t, right?) and blows out the candles. Yay! Happy Birthday to you, but, um, the cake looked a little small for that crowd there Jackie; gonna have to bake a few more next time……. “Well, thank you for that thorough embarrassment,” he says. Eh, a little embarrassment is good for ya. Toughens ya up.
Opening up with a rowdy “Gone Wanderin’”, one that often gets radio play so surely gets the crowd’s attention, before moving into “Uphill Mountain”, one of my favorite songs. It’s just easy to listen to and has some lyrics that pretty much anyone can relate to by their own experiences, or maybe by knowing what a friend is facing. And this one gets stretched out a little longer, allowing Jackie to improvise lyrics and interjections, strumming along a heartbeat pace, and Nathan touching the strings so lightly around the Greene beat, encouraging it to swing a little. Sweet.
One of his deeper rock songs, “Animal” is a bit of a rant about the world – “But I believe a change will come for us and those of us who demand it. For those who can’t stand it, living wild in the gutter. And, on that day the sun will burn like a golden hammer, and we will understand and learn how to live with each other.” Righteous. And, there was a super jazzy interlude in there, in this hard rock song, with Jason Crosby fancying it up on the baby grand, before Nathan Dale gets all up in your mug again with his guitar to end it.
Jackie would move over to the keys for a while, from “Shaken” through “Tell Me Mama”, holding on to the acoustic for the two sandwich songs (“Animal” and “Prayer for Spanish Harlem”). So, yeah, the guy plays quite a number of different instruments. From the acoustic guitar and harmonica, to a plethora of electric guitars including that uniquely sounding Dobro for songs like, “I Don’t Live in a Dream”, to the piano and organ for a handful of others. And, I know I’ve seen him tooling around on the drums during a very casual jam here or there so….. Oh, and speaking of the song, “I Don’t Live in a Dream”, Nathan Dale, one who holds onto the same guitar the entire show, sure let’s it rip for this one.
I mentioned one of the special guests earlier; Jason Crosby, a hard working musician whose main talents keep him either on the fiddle or at the keys, would join the band for the entire show, filling out the sound and the stage fully and warmly, as if he belonged. Local Bay Area guitar man, Mr. Mark Karan joined the stage from “Grindstone” (which I might add was the lighter/happier version rather than the slower/deeper version we do get sometimes) through the encore, cranking each song up just one more notch, and whose presence surely draws the musical chops out of both Dale and Greene.
I’m in love with this song, “Hallelujah”, one that Jackie introduces as new, although he’s treated crowds with this a few times since breaking it out at The Crystal Bay Club in December 2012. As should be, the place respectfully quiets down as he starts it out alone, on the piano…. “I was on the run, but I was not running. So many are the boats, that drift away at sea. But, when your time is done, even lions loose their cunning. You will sing with everything, Hallelujah…..” This song just keeps getting better and better, each time it’s played. Especially this time, with this big band sound coming from the stage as the song winds down, Jackie getting the crowd to clap along, Jason gliding on the fiddle, Mark and Nathan stretching out the guitars, leading us down some French Quarter alley in New Orleans, opening it up for Jackie who turns to the organ to close it out swinging big. That’s the sound, the joyous sound.
From the attitude-filled blues of “Tell Me Mama”, to the sweet and soulful “Prayer for Spanish Harlem”, two different kind of love songs…. three, if ya count “Mexican Girl”…. And, the addition of special guests can make things sound even more unique, as with Jason’s fiddle solo during “Tell Me Mama”, a song that normally does not have a fiddle, nor does it have a fiddle playing lead guitar, so, well, you can imagine how cool and different it was. And, Nathan always gives this song such soul, you could hear Jackie at the keyboard hollering out in agreement or encouragement or whatever he was feeling, yelling “Yeah!” and “All right!” (And, I noted a giggle was included, along with some nutty crazy playing, massaging and kneading the keys, jumping from his seat and convulsing with energy he was clearly unable to contain from within.)
Jackie does like to give a little nod to the Dead, and he does so this night with “Shakedown” – a very groovin’, dancin’, shakin’ “Shakedown” too. Starting out with a smoother feel, on the sunnier side of the street, and ending on an explosive jam, matching Mark, Nathan and Jackie on stage exchanging riffs back and forth, ending up on “Another Brick in the Wall”. Jackie sure can play this one; lighthearted, danceable and funky, it was groove-moveable. And with Mark’s history with The Other One’s and RatDog, well…. and the addition of Jason Crosby on the keys, it all just worked. And it continued to command you to dance, moving directly into a 15-minute “New Speedway Boogie”, Mark and Jackie sharing lyrics here as well as in, “Sugaree”…….. The crowd really likes the way Jackie Greene does The Grateful Dead, you could tell by the cheers, reactions and interactions. And, again, with three guitar mad-men, there may have been some shattered glass somewhere that night – check the chandeliers! Some songs just suit some folks, that’s all; and I’m talking about folks both on that stage and in the crowd. And with three strong leads on stage, my goodness, they took this one to the guitar gods in the sky. Shake it, shake it. My-my.
There’d be more…. A double encore was planned, starting with a super smooth and warm “What’s Going On”, a song for the past, present and future. Jackie gives passion to the lyrics for the meaning behind the song, and Nathan’s guitar provides the warmth you didn’t know you needed. Band intros, bows, pose for the camera, and all would exit stage left. But, the house lights stayed down. Jackie would be back for one more, a solo performance, a quiet one, a soulful one, a sweet one…. “Sweet Somewhere Bound” has become that solo encore song that we love to see and hear. It is special for sure. “I can’t tell you, no, I can’t tell you, which train I’m riding, which plane I’m on. But I can tell you, yes, I can tell you, I’m standing right where I belong….” and the place goes nuts……
I’ve noticed over the years seeing Jackie that he is pretty friggin’ good at communicating on stage. I’ve seen a lot of bands, whether they are a solid crew or one that just gets a chance to jam on occasion and needs that someone to sort of direct the organized chaos. Some are good at leading it and some are not. He wears his excitement, or discernment, on his sleeve for sure, but he also has a way of getting up in each of their spaces, looks right at them, whether for encouragement or approval, connecting on a different level.
Friday, November 28
Opening Act: The Coffis Brothers (acoustic)
Don’t Let the Devil Take Your Mind, Farewell So Long Goodbye, I’m So Gone, A Moment of Temporary Color, Spooky Tina, Shaken, So Hard to Find My Way, Trust Somebody*, Cell Block #9, Never Satisfied, Shaky Ground, Hollywood>Taxman>Scarlet Begonias, Till the Light Comes
Encore: Back to Birth*
Saturday, November 29
Opening Act: Nathan Trueb/Tango Alpha Tango (solo acoustic)
Gone Wanderin’, Uphill Mountain, I Don’t Live in a Dream, Medicine, Animal, Shaken, Grindstone, Hallelujah*, Tell Me Mama, Prayer for Spanish Harlem, Mexican Girl, Shakedown Street> Jam> Another Brick in the Wall Jam> New Speedway Boogie> Jam> New Speedway Boogie> Sugaree……
Encore: What’s Going On (full band), Sweet Somewhere Bound (Solo)