The first of two concerts by California troubadour Jackie Greene and his backing band went over well with the energized and lubricated Friday night crowd at The State Room.
What's perennially mystifying about Greene is why such a talented singer-songwriter relies on covers for nearly half of his show. One gets the feeling that Greene either feels compelled to play them - he earned a lot of name recognition and many new fans when playing with former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh about four years ago - or whether he simply wants to play the chestnuts because he loves them as much as his fans do.
Unless Greene volunteers the information, we're left to wonder - and enjoy. After Friday, however, I'm starting to draw the conclusion that Greene simply enjoys the old favorites.
Greene's band tackled several nice selections from his songbook, "Don't Let the Devil Take Your Mind" "I'm So Gone," and "Medicine" before launching into the Dead's 1970 chestnut "New Speedway Boogie," which had a majority of the audience on its feet and swaying. During this song he also teased two other GD staples "The Other One" and "Bird Song."
After briefly returning to his own songbook for "Shaky Ground," Greene closed the set with nearly a 20-minute cover tune blast: "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" rolled into an instrumental take on Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall," before segueing into the Dead's "Shakedown Street" and returning to "Grapevine."
After a break, Greene returned and steered the band from behind the keyboards for the set's opening run of songs: "Shaken," "Grindstone," and "Tell Me Mama." The final selection's bluesy/gospel-tinged organ and plaintive vocals were arguably the concert's highlight.
After picking up an acoustic guitar and his harmonica rack, Greene led the band through a flawless take of one of his more popular songs "Gone Wanderin'." After two more originals, Greene and company returned to cover-ville, this time seamlessly sewing The Beatles' "Taxman" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" into one feedback-fueled 10-minute blast of mid-'60s moptop madness.
After that, Greene returned to the Dead's archives for the venerable live staple "Scarlet Begonias," from 1974's "Mars Hotel."
Folks who track Greene's songlists online wouldn't have seen anything unusual about the sets until that point, but there turned out to be a surprise waiting.
Greene wowed the crowd - and seemingly the band too - with a high-spirited cover of "Bring It On Home," the Sonny Boy Williamson blues number that Led Zeppelin converted into a grand synthesis of blues-rock power on Led Zeppelin II. To say this went over well with the crowd is like saying farmers enjoy rain. Whether it was the 60-year-old man to my right jumping as high as he could for more than half of the song or the fist-pumping fans on the front row, the audience was down-right euphoric.
After the song, which ended with Greene doing a note-perfect Robert Plant imitation of the song's high-powered crescendo, he thanked the crowd and said he hoped to see them again Saturday. He will. Saturday's a sell-out too. Follow Salt Lake Magazine arts/entertainment writer Scott Murphy on Twitter at murphyinfo. Contact Scott via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org