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Saturday, April 5

Review and Photos: Jackie Greene Band - The Fox Theater - March 21st, 2014 - Oakland, CA

The Fox Theater is a remarkable place.  It’s opulence and energy is nostalgic but not old.  It’s walls, halls and rooms are complex yet minimal on the senses.  The staff is top notch and friendly and it’s location; a block off the 19th Street BART station puts it easily within reach of almost anyone who hails from the Bay Area.  Not to mention the room where inside sit two golden toned Buddhas who bookend the stage.  They sit there as dedicated sentries to the musicians who grace the space between them.  On Friday Night March 21st Jackie Greene was that musician and when he came out with his band to a packed house all juiced up it was only a sign of things to come.
The openers were aptly named Tumbleweed Wanderer’s and then his close friend, Tim Bluhm’s long standing California staple, The Mother Hips.  The killed it in Grateful Dead fashion, always an easy comparison but The Hips, are just that: Hip.  That and they rock folk the best way possible, or is it folk rock the only way allowed?  Either way, they were a nice early evening treat.

The first set took off like a rocket as cheers erupted when it was evident that Jackie would have The Black Crowes keyboardist Adam MacDougall on board for the entire show.   Greene and with band at his side tore into a three song launch consisting of “Gone Wanderin’” , “Uphill Mountain”, “I’m So Gone”.  Guitarist Nathan Dale has been with Jackie for so many years now that the two just meld together and literally ping and pong off of each other’s rifts giving and taking with the ease of a free transaction.  The first set kept on elevating into a pure show of rock n roll with the steady bass lines of Jeremy Plog laying a patchwork that songs like “A Moment of Temporary Color”, the loud and upbeat “Medicine”, and album title track “Till the Light Comes”, blew out the speakers, young concert revelers ran back and forth with their extra large headphones on.  Guarded not from bad sound, but loud music and if it’s good it should come in one package only and LOUD would be that way.

The second set was a bit toned down but as most we’re saying it’s classic Jackie.  And so he came out acoustic with his harp and ran through a gauntlet of great folk songs and rock ballads spanning his entire 14 year professional career.  His harp playing was the yang to the yin of his voice with both wrapped in the blanket of his guitar, strumming along, plucking out, and pounding down when and where the song called for it.  “About Cell Block #9” being a crowd favorite found itself awash in a mish mash of beautiful musicianship.  With surgical precision he held the captive audience in a dazed space of bliss for the duration of this nearly hour long set, or remarkable intermission of beautiful, traditional Jackie Greene.

The night starting with the glaring neon lights of the huge Fox marquee outside was far from over as Jackie and his band emerged for a full third set.  This time with Jackie on piano for the most part he played classics, staples and ramped the energy back up to that of the first set before dropping into a raucous and evolved version of “Animal”, which in a lot of ways has become one of his signature crowd pleasing favorites.  Phil Lesh once called Jackie Greene “The Pride of San Francisco”, and though he truly hails from Lodi, CA or Sacramento if you prefer, he has made the Bay Area a home away from homes for himself.   With that he delved into one of the most impressive covers I’ve ever heard him perform of the Grateful Dead classic “New Speedway Boogie”.  Now I’ve heard him play this song with every living member of the Grateful Dead, or at least for the most part, and I’ve heard what I thought was every little incarnation possible but on this night he couldn’t let the song be completely free as he showed off his latest growth and influence, most likely from the melting pot of his many projects such as a long year as The Black Crowes guitarist, and now fronting Trigger Hippy with Joan Osbourne more and more the vibe was jam, and jam he did.  I’ve heard Jackie Greene and his band take “New Speedway” into a similar direction on New Years Eve 2010 but never with such aim.  So it was “Bird Song Jam”>”Other One Jam” (where Adam and Nate just tore the limbs off the tree) and > back into “NSB”.  I found myself speechless, not for lack of words but because the breath had been expunged from my chest as the room exhaled a grateful sigh of elation.  Wow Brother.

The encore was a 2 by 2 punch of musical heaven as Jackie took a beautiful stab at Marvin Gaye’s great soul anthem, “What’s Going On”; safe to say he hit his mark.  The second part of the encore included The Mother Hips, a very expected treat in the form of the Tim Bluhm song “White Headphones”.  
All together now and with the room just as full as it is ever was the audience gave an ovation worthy of a show raked with masterpiece after masterpiece.  Was it flawless?  One would have to say so.  The evolution of Jackie Greene has been fun and amazing to have been able to witness first hand.  His dynamic nature lends itself to these perfect shows for whatever he chooses to play and however he and his amazingly talented band decided to play it the show comes out fresh and new.  Jackie Greene 2014, and at 33 years old.  It’s safe to say this year will be another one with him and his music paving the way for a larger than life experience, ones similar to the remarkable one had at The Fox Theater on this early Spring night in Oakland.
Words: Sammy Martin 
Photos: Jerry Warren
©Grateful Music LLC