Before Laurence Juber took the stage at Everett, Washington’s Anchor Pub, a potential patron asked the doorman, “Who’s Laurence Juber?” The succinct reply, “He used to be in Wings,” turned the looky-loo into a paying customer.
While it’s true that Juber was the lead guitarist for the final incarnation of Paul McCartney’s band, playing on such hits as “Goodnight Tonight” and “Coming Up,” to focus only on that brief period of his career is to sell him short. The two-time Grammy winner has released a string of acclaimed instrumental acoustic guitar albums, as well as amassed an impressive list of scoring and session credits. But the McCartney connection is a vital part of Juber’s past and perhaps the quickest way to hook a new listener, as evidenced by the aforementioned walk-in customer.
Juber put on a dazzling display of acoustic guitar mastery throughout two hour-long sets. Not only did he make it look effortless, he was clearly having a blast. The first set kicked off with an original tune, “Cobalt Blue,” a rousing demonstration of the complete control he has of his instrument. At times, he played only with his left hand on the fretboard, while rhythmically slapping his right hand against the guitar’s body. Del Shannon’s “Runaway” followed, its familiarity easily rousing the large crowd that had squeezed into the intimate pub.
Throughout both sets, Juber mixed original tunes with covers of classics, both from the rock era as well as the Great American Songbook. Beatles songs peppered the set list; no surprise, given that two of his most popular albums are dedicated to their songbook, LJ Plays the Beatles (2000) and LJ Plays the Beatles Vol. 2 (2010). His Beatles interpretations do a remarkable job of capturing the essence of the original arrangements, despite the fact that they’re being produced by just a single acoustic guitar. He played a spine-tingling version of “I Am the Walrus” that perfectly evoked the atmosphere of the original. Other Beatles covers included “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Blackbird,” and “I Saw Her Standing There.”
Several old standards furthered emphasized Juber’s fluid playing, including “Stormy Weather,” “All of Me,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” Late in the first set he performed McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” which he recorded several years ago for the album One Wing, comprised entirely of tunes written by his former boss. Other rock-era covers included Eric Clapton’s “Layla” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” His versions of well-known rock and pop tunes are relatively loyal to the originals, recreating familiar melodies and riffs while adding his own personal stamp. The many originals he performed, including the pastoral “Mosaic” and dramatic “Highway 17,” highlighted Juber’s amazing rhythmic technique.
Juber displayed a charming, comfortable stage presence throughout the show. Numerous between-song anecdotes, which were informative and often humorous, created a real connection between the artist and his audience. Anyone with doubts about the entertainment value of two hours of instrumental acoustic guitar playing should check out one of his shows. Each set ended in an enthusiastic standing ovation. Juber manned the merchandise table himself, signing CDs and graciously posing for photographs.
Laurence Juber has many shows, clinics, and workshops scheduled throughout the U.S. Check out his official website for a tour itinerary.