Here’s the review of last night’s Jackie Greene show on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood:
I’m not going to sit here and pretend like getting to the show was cake. With a near 3 hour drive through horrendous traffic, ticket fees that amounted to a measly 40 percent of the total cost, $15 bucks for parking and a lack of seats, it could have been easier. Nonetheless, I can’t recall a time that I had been more content with my purchase. You didn’t walk away angry or ripped off, as every one of those feelings had dissipated by the end of the first song.
This was my first show since July, a time in which some rather drastic change has occurred. With an entirely new band—though it was good to see Nick working backstage—Jackie Greene has come back with a vengeance. The energy and passion has returned tenfold, combining nicely with what can only be described as brilliant song writing. (The new stuff is up on Jackie’s Myspace) I lost count of how many times I’ve seen him, but that doesn’t stop this show from ranking right at the top. Though nothing can beat a solo acoustic show, this new lineup, attitude and music comes about satisfyingly close.
The new guitarist was fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not the best I’ve ever seen, but I’m not sure you can ask for anything more. He did absolutely everything a rhythm guitarist ought to. Better yet, you couldn’t sense the slightest ego even with everything he adds to the sound. There weren’t any attempts to steal the show, “express his musical self” or dance around like an idiot (you know who I’m talking about). The “So Hard to Find My Way” was flawless and I can’t even begin to describe how much his slide-work improves the set. The beauty of his addition is not that realization that he fills a void that plagued the shows in the past, but rather his ability to take the Jackie Greene experience to a level you didn’t even know was possible.
It was the little things that made the show better than the others. The drumming—something I can honestly say was irrelevant in past performances—added volumes to the impact. That a group could be this tight with less than 6 months of shows leaves me salivating for the future. Surprisingly, I was pleased with the bassist as well. Like the drummer, his play was slick and spot-on. Together their fills worked to create a flow that simply wasn’t there previously. The rhythm hits accented the songs and built the climaxes with amazing energy—one’s that were exceedingly greeted with solid solos and riffs.
With a 40 minute set, you couldn’t have asked for a better catalog. It grabbed from all the right styles with enough variety to keep it interesting. For the first time I don’t remember the piano section dragging on–in fact, it actually lifted the show to a new level. The same quickness and showmanship that he’d always held with the guitar has finally been fully applied to the keys. Too, the ability to combine the harmonica, keys and guitar simultaneously allowed the live show to capture the power that had previously been limited to his albums.
I was talking to a friend about Jackie the other day, and he expressed concern about the direction of his career. That it was strange for an artist to open for B.B King and then two years later take the stage before someone like Big Head Todd. It’s a completely legit observation, but I think it’s misguided and lacking some context.
I get the transition, completely and entirely. A young kid on stage, blowing people’s minds with his maturity and talent only gets you so far. It induces a few “holy shits” and gets you noticed, but what then? Getting noticed is how you sign to major—something he’s done—but after that, you’ve got to continue improving.
After that, you better fucking be amazing. If you’re not jaw-dropping then you don’t deserve your spot. Once you’ve got a record deal, the excuses are over, you can’t rely on novelty or nostalgia, and you sure as hell better be innovative. That—growth as an artist—is exactly what this new lineup is about. He’s not 20 anymore and he no longer meets the “small town kid” qualifications. It took some balls and self-awareness to realize that.
The live act finally reflects this. The dynamic has changed dramatically, and for the better no doubt. It’s not just one talented musician; it’s a collective and coherent group broadcasting the same message. We still know who’s in charge, who’s writing the songs and who’s putting everything out on the table—the band just amplifies it all.
I suppose I ought to address Big Head Todd, though I’m not sure what else should be said other than “coulda used a little less of them.” Not to say I wasn’t pleasantly surprised or that Todd wasn’t an absolute badass, it’s just everything blended together. There were a few stand-outs and no shortage of ripping solos, but it dragged for sure. If the acts had split the time more evenly, they could avoid the massive disparity and create a more entertaining packaged. It would have allowed Jackie to build on the energy of his set, play an encore and perhaps jammed a bit, all while preventing a lack of distinction and loss of impact from BHT. With a set north of 90 minutes, I completely forgot the titles and styles of the songs I liked, and lost track of where one track ended and the other began.
In the end though, I couldn’t have designed a much better show. Anyone who debated attending and decided against it made a mistake that they ought to regret. My experience with Jackie Greene has been revolutionized and I left impressed and awe-struck, something I couldn’t have predicted for all the world. For this to be such a great show, after all I’ve seen, is a testament to obvious effort put forth by Jackie and the band. The evolution of this young man’s career is so clearly heading in the appropriate direction. No longer does he wish to impress as a old soul in a young body, but as artists on an equal playing field. It won’t be him that recruits new fans, rather the performance put forth by his group of fantastic musicians. They’ll continue to win an audience, for sure, but finally with showmanship thrown into the equation. And no matter how difficult the circumstances are in the future, I know now how imperative and how worthwhile it will be to attend every single Los Angeles show.
If you want to see the rest of the tour dates, they are posted here
If you want more info on Jackie Greene, try this article: 3 Reasons to Listen to Jackie Greene
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