Update 6/15/10: Enjoy a stream of the entire show by clicking below, courtesy of Joe Perona.
Solo and acoustic. A musician has got to have pretty big stones to pull it off. Without a band and effects for distraction, the audience can only focus on the artist, warts and all. They are laying it out there, with only voice and guitar to provide dynamics and keep the audience engaged. A one man show requires a unique talent – and it’s not common to even see the most accomplished musicians attempt it.
It is a rare treat to see Jeff Massey, of the The Steepwater Band, in this setting. I was lucky to be in the room for his second set of tunes last Tuesday night (May 25) at the Harlem Avenue Lounge when Jeff justified his ambition not only as a solo performer, but also as a songwriter and interpreter of rock and blues.
From the set opening “Walkin’ Blues”, Jeff delivered a stripped down version of what audiences have come to expect from Steepwater: blues like an exposed nerve… a big voice and a passion to match. Ably handling the fretboard, the guitar sound was crisp, clean and unaffected as it rang into all corners of the club.
Befitting of the format, The Harlem Avenue Lounge played an important role in the night’s proceedings – the room is intimate and revealing. With its smallish stage tucked away at the end of a big rectangular bar tended by Kenny, a warm and cordial host, it felt like someone’s living room. When Massey belts out “Dance Me A Number For Free” or “The World Keeps Moving On”, it’s a bit like bearing witness to something personal. Smoldering slow acoustic blues that immediately draws you in and connects you to the performer.
Of course, that level of intensity isn’t sustainable over the course of a 90 minute set (let alone two). What really makes the show is that Massey is personable and likable on stage. Smiling and bantering with the audience and Kenny between songs, he offered to take a request, but only if the requesting fan could find the lyrics (he looked it up on a web enabled phone, but Massey claimed they were the wrong words… he sang it anyway).
But, it wasn’t all raw emotion and chuckles; Massey could still get nasty. The funky blues of “The Healer” left the dedicated crowd with a new appreciation for how dirty an unfiltered acoustic guitar could sound. And covers of “Six Days on The Road” and “Prodigal Son”, helped ground us and keep toes a-tappin’.
The great cover material didn’t stop there. By request from the back of the bar, Jeff obliged with “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”. It subsequently morphed into what Massey dubbed “The Bobby D Trilogy”, segueing from BLMFYD into a ripping “All Along The Watchtower” and resolving itself with “Girl From The North Country.”
I can’t imagine a better way to spend Tuesday night – and I’m sure most of the crowd agrees. It’ll be Saturday night when Jeff, Tod Bowers and Joe Winters take the stage at Brixie’s in Brookfield as The Steepwater Band. If this is how Tuesdays sound, you’d best find yourself there. Stay tuned for more about this incredible band right here on these pages and pick yourself up a ticket while you still can. The Barn is thrilled to bring them to you.
1. Key To The Highway
2. All The Way To Nowhere
3. The Stars Look Good Tonight
5. Diving Duck Blues
6. Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues
7. Slow Train Drag
8. Dust My Broom
9. Between Her And The Morning > Maybeline > My Babe > Between Her And The Morning
10. At The Fall Of The Day
11. Hard As Stone
13. Vanishing Girl (1st time played)
14. Revelation Sunday
15. Stop Breakin' Down
16. Hot Tamales (They're Red Hot)
17. Come On In My Kitchen
18. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
1. Walkin' Blues
2. Lord Knows
4. Dance Me A Number
5. Six Days On The Road
6. World Keeps Moving On
7. Wake Up And Walk Away
8. Drop Down Mama
9. Prodigal Son
10. Black Mountain Side
12. From Four Until Late
13. Baby Let Me Follow You Down
14. All Along The Watchtower
15. Girl From The North Country
16. TV Mama
17. Fire Away
18. One Way Ride