John Wesley Harding - This prolific singer songwriter was just headlining here recently with a two-hour set of his own. I enjoyed that show quite a bit, evidenced here, and was happy to see he is such a Strawbs fan as well. For as he said, "this may be the only time I stay around to see the band... well, there were a couple nights opening for Springsteen...". He's doing most of the tour with them so he can hang out with them, catch shows, and have a good time. But we also get the benefit of his marvelous songs, guitar dexterity, and hilarious wit, albeit only 38 minutes tonight. I love his new single, but why not imbed it than describe it.
He did many other favorites and had wry commentary between songs and within including the warning that he was not playing "Quinn the Eskimo" when the initial chords were pretty much the same. He displayed great flat picking technique that both rocked out and pulled back into intricate folk moves. His songs were clever, stage patter even more so. I got to thinking that it would be hilarious to have him play a show with Neil Innes, Eric Idle, and Robyn Hitchcock on stage with him. It would be hilarious but you would probably only get about 5% music and 95% comedy with those guys. Tonight's bonus was less hilarious, but more musical with David Lewis who he has written songs with on some guest backing vocals. To no surprise, everything clicked tonight with the Jammin Java crowd.
The Strawbs - After an enjoyable 40-minute chat (45! Dave Cousins corrects me later) with Dave Cousins, I was looking forward to this evening's set even more than the previous couple of shows. It was the expected line-up of Chas Cronk on acoustic bass, 12-string guitar, pedals, and vocals; Dave Lambert on acoustic guitar and vocals; and Dave Cousins on vocals, acoustic guitar, with the surprise additions of dulcimer and banjo which have been in hiding too long. They did two sets tonight for a whopping 110 minutes as they pulled out songs I have not heard in a long time (if at all) and had many stories in between as they took us through a Strawbs history seminar. The stories were great, both funny and with a little bite. Of particular interest was his stories about a Irish musician we've never heard of, Dominic Behan (sorry, I've got three of his albums). The story was on Dylan's lifting a Behan melody/arrangement for a song of his own. He's preaching to the choir here, as I've spent enough time of my own complaining about Paul Simon and Jimmy Page on these issues. Oh, and "Josephine for better or for Worse" was dedicated to Dominic Behan's wife. The dulcimer made it out for "Benedictus" and was about the only miss from the soundman all night, as it was just a little too quiet. Otherwise, the guitars were ringing away and the banjo added a nice diversity for a couple of songs. Lambert blazed away on some rock solos on his acoustic (especially on "Ghosts") while adding slide touches and some effects. The three really locked in on some intricate arrangements and filled the room. Vocally, they were also in great form and have such wonderful contrasting voices. "New World" was as good as I've ever seen it played. It was nice to see a good turnout for this powerful show and the audience enjoyed every minute of it. It does not appear that there is anything slowing these guys down yet and I am sure I will be back for another round next year. It is never too late to become a Strawbs fan, as they have been the tortoise racing the hare in one of the longest musical marathons I have seen. We know how that story ends.
Set List: The Man who Called Himself Jesus / The Weary Song / Copenhagen (for Sandy Denny) / Josephine for Better or Worse / New World / Oh How She Changed / The Hangman and the Papist // Benedictus / Ghosts / Grace Darling / You and I / Cold Steel / Shine on Silver Sun / Autumn / Lay Down... Enc: Midnight Sun
Quote of the Night: There were a bunch, but I'll pass along this exchange between John Wesley Harding and a fan making a request...
JWH: Who said that (fan raises hand) Funny, I was just thinking about playing that one. Did you request that the last time I was here?
Fan: No, I haven't seen you in 7 or 8 years.
JWH: Well, fuck off then.... just kidding.
Fan: I was in Iowa then.
JWH: Oh, what part, ok. Stop now, I'll play it for you.
Fan: Thank you.
JWH: I said stop now--two syllables too many. Don't mind me, I'm just getting going."