Crystal Bay favorite Jackie Greene is back

Larry Sabo
Jackie Greene sold out the Crown Room on consecutive nights in the Crystal Bay Casino.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

Packed house, Saturday night in November, 2015, Crystal Bay Club, Nevada: Jackie Greene takes the stage for the second night in a row, this time for the electric general admission show. The pit was packed; for that matter, the whole floor was, all the way to the bar in the back of the room.

Jackie is undoubtedly a favorite everywhere and no less when he comes to the Crystal Bay Casino; so the fans were out in solid numbers, many for both nights, and nobody, I mean nobody, walked away disappointed.

Jackie and his band are a noble, hardworking, humble bunch of fellows. No pomp, no nonsense; just good old-fashioned (world refined, perfected and distilled) rock and roll. Opening with a rhythmic rocker from the new album, “Back to Birth,” Greene set the pace and put out his quiet passion right away with “The King Is Dead.” Nobody in the audience waited beyond the first note to fall into a dancing, swaying groove. This here is consummate musicianship, and no one there – from musicians to audience members – needed to be told what to do: play; dance; smile and be grateful we have live music to soothe a troubled world.

In his signature wide-brimmed straw hat, tight jeans and red T-shirt, Jackie’s stage presence is classy, but casual, a workingman and a professional rolled into one. The band immediately displays its chops, tight and precision driven, drums, bass, and electric guitar to Jackie’s acoustic with a metal resonator.

The band moved into “I’m So Gone,” setting the tone for a night of emotionally intelligent, cutting edge lyricism and passionate playing. Every note held a sense of urgency, a driving intensity on the edge of a soft warm welcome, keeping the aware listener in a sway of give and take; you play, we listen; you call, we follow.

Moving into a beautiful new ballad, “Silver Lining,” it seemed like nothing could outshine sweet, lilting rock-and-roll to soothe a tired soul. Who hasn’t wished for a silver lining these days? Jackie sloe gin, slow-flowing molasses voice singing about it just makes a soul feel less alone. Every influence imaginable is heard in these songs; at times a reverie overtakes you, and you think it’s the Byrds or the Band, so astutely does Greene nuance the presence of his forbearers in his empathetic lyrics and country-rock, rhythm-and-blues based guitar styling.

An older number (and clear crowd favorite), “Farewell, So Long, Goodbye,” laid down solid rocker rhythms and a driving, bluesy chorus, with swelling upturned notes at the end that made it sound like he really meant it, that goodbye. Deftly moving from powerful vocals (the man has a rich, strong, multi-range voice) to passionate harmonica riffs, Greene blew that harp like a whistle of a far off train carrying his goodbye straight out of town. With his voice like honey and nails, lulling then hammering his poetic, blues-steeped and stewed lyrics into the microphone, this man is one captivating performer.

(For anyone who worships in the church of rock-and-roll, this was the moment in the show where the music took over, and swept over the brain and body like the exhilarating wave of rejuvenation it can be – from parched to quenched, the hard driving music coursing through you, and you’re back in your body, in your natural element, moving swaying with the music, a beautiful moment of jam-band bliss, weaving shadow and light, stillness and flight, space and time – and loving it. Jackie Greene’s music was perfect to slide one right into the front pew, and stand singing “Hallelujah.”)

Jackie GreeneWhat tight precision the band displayed. In addition to Greene (multi-instrumentalist, virtuoso on piano, guitar, harmonica, vocals, and lo and behold, a portable concert organ), the band featured Fitz Harris on drums, John Parnell on bass guitar, and Nathan Dale on electric guitar. Dale, in particular, was a sympathetic presence and match for Greene, clearly his wing-man, playing off one another in such a tight syncopation of guitar riffs and back-up vocals to Jackie’s lead – well, it was inspiring. Those of us who live for live music, live for moments like these.

With steadily climbing guitar riffs, methodical but not method, the band moved into a fast-paced number, “Spooky Tina,” letting out the wild things. Then, as if Greene read this reviewer’s mind, he sings of “the rhythm of the freight train running” and another road left behind in “Light Up Your Window” (also off the new album). Always a goodbye in his hello, these songs bespeak travel and miles, but also the joy in the return, as the rhythm of that freight train carries the song forward in a satisfying, melodic and mesmerizing way.

Greene’s songs cover all the notes in the song of life. He’s got style, panache, and humility: a true entertainer simply playing and singing his heart out. There’s nothing saccharine about his lyrics or his presentation: it’s just powerful, genuine, rock and roll, with a dash of country and solid rhythm and blues to ground the mix. His vocals are like a choir member come to serenade us (with strong, beautiful back-up vocals from Harris and Dale), sincere, clear and soaring. With the synthesis of fine guitars, steady drumbeats, and grinning players clearly having as grand a time as their audience – this, the beauty of live music, the medicine we all come to hear.

Like the title suggests, crawling through “Uphill Mountain,” Greene and electric guitar man Dale lit up a fine duet, trading riffs as the crowd chorused along with “stand tall, if you’re gonna stand at all.” On into “Animal,” and Greene and Dale strike up a fine duet, contrasting guitar riffs and harmonizing intelligent lyrics, “I’m the same as you…with a different reaction,” the chorus proclaiming no shame for who and how we are as humans: “I was born an animal; a wild, wild animal.”

Another bluesy, deep groove swampy session took root, and then, mid-song, Greene switched from the amplified acoustic guitar he’d playing to electric, letting loose as the songs lyrics also intensified, tough talk for tough times, how we’ll meet the coming challenges of “how to live with each other.” Greene really shredded it then, with lightning fast slides up and down the neck of his guitar, cinching it close to the bottom of the neck to whip out notes as fast as the speed of sound, jamming – like Jerry, like Jimi – melodic, then screaming, a rhythmic ride off the steady pace thrown down by Dale’s guitar. Rock and roll animals: Lou Reed would be proud.

From this exhilarated display, Greene set down his guitar and stepped to the piano, and with soothing notes pulled us in to the next song. Profound, prophetic lyrics, insights into our human condition (“we run around, we move too fast…that’s the reason nothing lasts…”) matched Greene’s smooth piano notes and the wistful harmonica too, as he played your heartstrings with subtle, lonesome tones.

Staying at the piano for another two songs, the first a catchy, up-tempo number, Jackie broke into another great harmonica jam. The next, a beautiful ballad and love song with trusty harmonies from guitarist Dale, crooned,“You just get tired sometimes,” again speaking right to the heart of the journeys we all make, alone, together, and as a tribe.

Given his background, none of this comes as a surprise. A minor legend in his own (youthful) time, after years on the circuit already, Greene grew up in the musical cradle of the Bay Area, with so many musicians and influences to emulate. Having played with notables such as Phil Lesh, the Black Crowes, Gov’t Mule, and Joan Osborne, this young man’s prowess comes as no surprise. Though it is always divinely inspirational to hear.

The next song offered lyrics to rival mystic poet Rumi, speaking to the wisdom of a deep soul life: “Why would you know you’re alive, until you’ve died a thousand times…?” Greene’s songwriting is as grounded as his playing, philosophical and lyrical while remaining eminently true to the way of most wandering, rooted, postmodern hippie hearts.

Next, to amazed and delighted ears, what should cry out but an ORGAN? Indeed – and Greene’s soundman confirmed that it’s “heavy as hell” to move around on tour! – Greene swiveled back and forth between the piano and the organ on “Tell Me Mama,” belting it out with unwavering, spot-on tonality and tempo. This guy (did I mention?) is a PRO. Rippling piano keys, fingers solidly in the chords, notes flying, while Greene sings with the soul of preacher, warm baritone and soaring alto, and all the highs and lows dancing in between. Church. The organ riffs and wails – blues church – and being one of the faithful, the body takes over to sweltering tones of “Tell Me, Mama” – feisty, glorious playing, powerful and sublime, driving, but deliciously flirtatious at the same time. Blues man, rockin’ and rollin’.

Heavy, pounding driving rock erupted next – a tight little 4-square of each musician playing off of the other, with Greene back on his guitar. He ripped it up again, hand sliding up and down the neck of his guitar, making it whine, then scream, picking notes like sparks flying, clear, precise: Master of his craft. The band played so fiercely they nearly took the roof off the Crown Room, teeming music swelled like an impatient wave poised to crash over the foundations of that rocking old building.

An upbeat, mystical, happy number brought the music back to earth, with Greene making strange circular swathes across the strings of his guitar – creating a strange circular kind of sound! With flowing harmonies, rhythmic intelligence in the chord shifts and changes, the strains of “Now I Can See For Miles” began to wind the crowd down into a mellower mood. From there, wait for it, into the classic Dead tune, befitting any venue, any town, “Shakedown Street.” We all know the beat – the wah-wah guitar and the syncopated, jazzy progression – and the resounding chorus: “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart: I can hear it beat out loud!” Greene’s fresh interpretation – more jazzy than the Dead’s typical renditions – put mystery, and a dollop of extra heartbeat, back in the tried and true anthem.

What sheer pleasure and joy to watch Jackie Greene’s band play: just like with the Dead, the finest moments come watching these serious musicians craft their potion and brew. From a jam out of “Shakedown,” they morphed into strains of “We don’t need no education….just another brick in the wall!” The crowd, predictably, went nuts, recognizing the change instantly. Never a lyric was sung, but the Pink Floyd shout-out jam ripped on unmistakably, irreverently apropos, and just so rocking – and from there, back into “Shakedown Street,” back into the Wall – a heavy metal punk jam to tear the house down, blending of styles, songs, notes, and directions, and the musicians themselves.

Saturday’s show drew a number of repeat patrons from Friday night’s “acoustic” (seated) show. Not that they sat still, focused on the incredible performance Jackie and entourage delivered. The band showcased a number of songs from the new album, “Back to Birth,” with enough other Jackie favorites thrown in to make for a lively, interesting set. Alongside the new and old, Jackie and the band brought forth some tasty covers, such as Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You,” and the Grateful Dead’s classic anthem “New Speedway Boogie.”

For Saturday’s encore, again a strong punk beat, harmonies soaring beneath Greene’s crystal clear voice singing an anthem to a clear head, living without “your medicines,” and the dark, affirming, “I like who I am” – powerful, edgy, social justice lyrics embedded in a lovable rocker. I’m not sure which portends more for the legendary young multi-instrumentalist: his profound and diverse lyrical and melodic aptitude, or his incredible, genre-hopping, shredding of whatever instrument or microphone he stands before, playing like he was born with that guitar in his hands and voice gifted from Titans.

Related story: Q&A with Jackie Greene. LINK
Related story: Album review — Jackie Greene is back with “Back to Birth” LINK

To see all of Larry Sabo’s images of Saturday’s set, click HERE

  • Jackie Greene Band
    Nov. 21, 2015
    Crystal Bay Casino
  • The King Is Dead
    I’m So Gone
    Silver Lining
    Farewell, So Long, Goodbye
    Spooky Tina
    Light Up Your Window
    Uphill Mountain
    Animal
    Shaken
    So Hard To Find My Way
    Trust Somebody
    Tell Me Mama, Tell Me Right
    Back To The Bottom
    Now I Can See For Miles
    Shakedown Street
    Encore:
    Till The Light Comes
  • Jackie Greene Band, “Acoustic-ish”
    Nov. 20, 2015
    Crystal Bay Casino
  • I Don’t Live In A Dream
    I’m So Gone
    Silver Lining
    Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
    Light Up Your Window
    A Moment of Temporary Color
    New Speedway Boogie
    Motorhome
    Grindstone
    Hallelujah
    A Face Among The Crowd
    Take Me Back In Time
    You Can’t Lose What You Never Had
    Gone Wandering
    Encore:
    Sweet Somewhere Bound
    22939808770_8ac8b8ae7e_b 22939812790_228e60ebde_b  22939815890_dcc1892310_b 23235636735_9c5e684b0b_b 23235637245_4e6b57a50e_b 23235642045_4bbb67170d_b 23235642485_14b45b874c_b 23235643925_6f5ac13757_b(1)  22607183564_87d9481710_b 22607187934_cc28aed453_b 22607191804_9a781c9d4f_b 22608527153_11d0182fec_b 22608533703_2906de791b_b 22608536803_9ab07d9142_b 22841475347_8fb0099cec_b 22841483887_1cda28b9bb_b 22841489827_c1104ae8e0_b 22867662649_b77c3e0c24_b 22867666179_b0c6612f5b_b 22867669519_2b939e6fa2_b

 

 

 

 

 

 

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