As the doors opened and the line began to move, I made my way over to the KINK Earth Day booth, strategically positioned on the sidewalk in front of the Aladdin. The KINK Roadies (Interns and staff) were distributing information on recycling everything from tires to paint to yard debris. Co-sponsor, living green had information available for just about anything and how to do it ‘greener, sort of a tie-in with the headliner. Clever, huh?
One Eskimo came onstage and looked to me anyway, like they were not geared up for the psychedelic sounds on their record. Acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, a drum/percussion rigs that included a headlamp and turn signals; these are less trippy and more coffee house looking, if you know what I mean. Looks can be deceiving as they say, and proved it with their opening tune, Hometime.
With the pre-recorded audio about a nice average Joe setting the stage, guitarist Peter Rinaldi delicately finger-picked the lilting beginning as singer/songwriter Kristian Leontiou gently chimed in. They slowly built on the textures as the rhythm section of Adam Faulkner on drums and percussion and Jamie Sefton on bass filled in the bottom end, building both tension and relief. Leontiou sang of collecting all your things. Before I know it, Sefton picks up a trumpet and fills the song with yet another layer. He played bass and trumpet simultaneously, giving the room with the first of many great musical moments.
They followed with Giving Up, which highlighted just how tight and how large an acoustic power trio with a charismatic singer can sound. This song started out with an almost techno vibe due to Faulkner’s crisp, palm produced back beat, but switched gears nicely to a more alluring pop sound and back again. The soulful vocal interplay between Sefton and Leontiou kept the song driving and got the crowd out to the aisles to do some dancing. Next, the dreamy Astronauts slowed the pace a bit. Still, it was a really deep and musically intricate song that again showed off the layers that Leontiou builds into most of his songs.
One Eskimo’s set list was pretty much the first and last songs of their debut disc, with the rest of the disc on shuffle in between. The varied order worked well at times, like when the truly spacey and falsetto Chocolate followed their radio friendly hit, Kandi, which heavily samples Candi Stanton’s He Called Me Baby. Same goes for late in their set when they kept the horn vibe blowing, following All Balloons with the heart beat pulse of UFO.
With no mistake, this is Leontiou’s band. Throughout the night, his vocals and delivery held the audience’s attention and a well-placed wink would elicit a squeal or two from a few of the younger lasses in attendance. They finished the set with Amazing. A truly fun song, they pumped it up just a notch, somehow blending a Michael McDonald era Doobie Brothers vibe with multi-layered, Radiohead-like production, all with basically three acoustic instruments and a singer. It was a really cool effect and worked perfectly. A great finish to their set, for sure.
Next up was Jackie Greene. He and his crackerjack band had the security people working overtime trying to keep the aisles clear. The inclusion for the night of Steve Berlin of Los Lobos fame changed the playing field a tad and Jackie seemed to feed off the crowd, jamming and clowning with the rest of his band all night. They began with the Intro and Hollywood suite from American Myth and didn’t look back. “Are there any Grateful Dead fans out there tonight?” he asked as he fingered the opening notes to Bertha, which stretched into Don’t Let the Devil Catch You Wandering, which stretched into Gone Wandering. Can you see where I’m going with this? Tonight’s gig was for charity, let out all the stops, it’s all about giving back, and all that stuff. Jackie and the band gave plenty.
It was wonderful that Berlin was able to sit in with the band. Whether he was blowing the big sax or hunched over the keyboard, his fills and solos gave Greene’s set yet another dimension that had the crowd eager to react. Not that we ever had to wait long for a ‘moment’ to strike. There were many throughout Greene’s hundred minute set.
For example, Greene crosses the stage once to front with the guitar player Val McCallum and they have a “dueling Gibsons” moment that goes on for a few minutes. Jackie spins to his left and is suddenly soloing up against Steve Berlin, all dark shades, beard and baritone sax; the whole song (I’m So Gone) rang fresh as the first time I heard it. Or maybe it was when, during the incendiary Parchman Farm, Jackie sank to his knees during a particularly bluesy solo. He stayed there, encouraging the band to follow his lead as he shut his eyes and just got into it. He leaned back, closed his eyes and hit the note that bent and warped its way around a crescendo of rhythm section and chorus deftly enough to make the crowd silent, some jaws visibly slackened.
There’s a reason that Greene’s been one of Phil Lesh’s touring “Friends” on and off since the mid 2000’s. Like Lesh’s collaborators of the past, Greene has an honest love of the craft of not only being a wonderful singer/songwriter and bad-ass guitarist, he is an accomplished band member who gets off on the interplay and emotions that take over in a live situation. His rootsy blend of Americana and rock play well coast to coast.
By the end of tonight’s set, he is damp with sweat; his black, shoulder-length hair sticking to the boyish face under the beard. The band quickly bows and leaves Greene onstage alone for a private moment in the spotlight. A quick nod, he grabs his hat and heads back stage to gear up for the encore. The security guard near me, who all night has been pleading with folks to stay out of the aisle, is communicating on his walkie talkie to someone in charge. As the crowd cheers in anticipation of the encore, lots of fans rush down the aisle to either get the close up phone photo or boogie up close. The answer on the guard’s communicator tells the story. “May as well give up, there’s no stopping them now”, he said. “Get over by the back stage entrance. There’s nothing you can do there now”. Security was ceding the aisles to the people. Dancing rules.
So, by the time you read this (I am so far past deadline it’s not funny) One Eskimo will be back out on tour, having spent three weeks in the bosom of their families and are headed back to the States for the summer season. Steve Berlin and Los Lobos will be out on the road as well. The giant check will have long ago been cashed and budgeted away. And Jackie Greene will be getting ready to light up the stage in yet another town, bending strings till his fingers bleed, tears forming in the creases of his clenched eyelids, feeling each note, coaxing it out of its hiding space deep in side the guitar of the moment. And the crowds will dance in the aisles.
Rock on through the fog,