When Mason Jennings released Boneclouds last year, he broke from his signature folk sound in favor of a more pop kind of rock. He followed the release with an extensive tour, which his new label, a Sony imprint, supported with moderate promotion.
On a smaller scale, Jennings easily packed the 400 Bar last night—even at $20 a head, a steep ticket for that venue. It's always exciting to see a musician perform in the place they got their start. I had been wondering if he'd be playing with his band (he's currently backed by Brian McLeod on drums and Arabella Kauffmann on bass). When I got to the 400, I learned this was a solo set. Initially, this wasn't happy news. I saw him do a solo set at First Avenue just before Boneclouds, and the show's energy was much lower than when I've seen him perform with a band. Last night I was aching for a high-energy show.
Lucky for me, the 400 was much better than First Ave. for a solo Jennings performance. The intimate size and sentimental significance of the venue lent an exclusive air to the night, even though it was the second of a three-night stint.
Band be damned—two acoustic guitars and a harmonica proved crowd-pleasing.
The audience was crowded so tightly we were dripping sweat. Jennings's lengthy delay between opener Pieta Brown's set and his own took a toll on the cramped crowd. But as soon as he hit the stage, opening with "Jackson Square" from Boneclouds, we were immediately uplifted by his presence. No one seemed to miss the song's piano parts, which Jennings smoothly filled in with harmonica.
Next, he moved onto the short, staccato "Simple Life," the title track off his 2002 record. I dare say the entire crowd knew every word to this fast-paced tune.
With less going on onstage sans backup band, the simple songs seemed simpler yet, thus prompting the crowd to sing along even more than usual. Loyal fans, from frat boys to hipster girls, belted out Jennings's heartfelt lyrics along with the singer for the duration of the show.
His mixture of old and new songs worked well for the audience, many of whom no doubt watched him play there ten years ago to much, much smaller crowds. Even when playing Boneclouds songs, Jennings's stripped-down solo performance seemed a return to his folksy roots, in the place where he planted them.
The Light (Part II)
California (Part II)
How Deep Is That River (my best guess is this is a gospel song by Rev. James Cleveland)
Living in the Moment
Be Here Now
(Didn't recognize this one. Was anybody there who did?)
If You Ain't Got Love
Keepin' It Real
Darkness Between the Fireflies