New York City got a treat on Friday night May 13th as Grayson Capps played a short but tasty set at Stage 3 of the Rockwood Music Hall. Grayson plays in a number of configurations: solo, with a full band, and as a duo with his lead guitarist, Corky Hughes. Happily, he brought Corky north to deliver for a room full of his adoring fans.
At set time, Capps quickly jumped on stage with Hughes said he had only 57 minutes to get in all his songs and stories, and thanked the crowd profusely for their love and support during the Pandemic. Capps had barely started the set with his gravelly voice and acoustic guitar and the crowd joined in by the chorus and rarely let up, and Hughes’ guitar provided light wailing.
By the second song “This is a Song Just for You” he was howling like a coyote (as was the crowd) and his story-telling came alive, as he noted the woman (and mother of his daughter) that the song was written for/about and proudly noted his daughter was now a musician herself with her band, Mudd Club, and had busked on the same corner in New Orleans where he first wooed her mother with “this very song”. Although the crowd was singing along already, he encouraged them to join him for “A Bag of Weed” jokingly noting that he wrote it as a new hit for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The crowd was boisterous – singing, howling, calling requests, spewing love for Capps. Later, Capps quipped “New Jersey was in the house; I had to keep that set upbeat [to keep control of the show.”
The rest of the short 10-song set included some gems including personal fave “Cry Me One Tear” and a soaring “Mermaid” dedicated to the soldiers (Ukrainian and Russian) fighting a disastrous war. And always a lagniappe, Capps reciting a poem – this one about a “fear-fruit bearing tree”. He took a few requests – a haunting “Scarlet Roses “and his constantly reinterpreted crowd-pleaser “Poison” but ignored others (no “Taos”, alas) as there was not a lot of room for more in under an hour.
Capps is a compelling and dramatic performer – you can’t take your eyes off of him nor stop being fully engaged with his performance – with his fantastic lyrics, his awkwardly delicious sinewy long frame that seems barely contained by his chair or even the stage, and his long, loose blond locks whipping all over. Each song builds musically and lyrically, and one scarcely knows whether to hang on to the story, the frenzy of guitars or just the simple passion in the song.
And then there is the brilliance of Hughes on electric guitar taking each and every song to the next realm. Capps gives Hughes plenty of room to build a mood and stretch out a song, frequently just sitting next to him and gazing admiringly as the crowd oohs in awe. Capps has shared the stage with many over his 25-year career, but none takes his songs and performance to the level that Hughes does.
Capps closed by imploring the crowd to “spread their love junk” with “May We Love” – “What’s our common thread/What’s our neutral ground/Whether you’re living in the country/Or you live in the town/We’re all here on this planet/Third stone from the sun/I’ll lay down my bible/If you lay down your gun.”
Rockwood had to clear the room for the next band, but Grayson and Corky spent at least another hour upstairs and on the street chatting with fans. He threatened to busk on Orchard Street (and hopefully he did but this reviewer was not there).
It’s a shame that Grayson can’t score a longer set at a larger club as he does in South Alabama and New Orleans. His extensive catalog of character sketches, love stories, and slices of Southern life deserves to be heard and danced to. But us New Yorkers will take what we can get of Grayson’s genius and Corky’s brilliant guitar. Our choice is to wait another year or get ourselves to South Alabama. See you all in ‘Bama.