We joined everyone over 50 in San Francisco at Bay Area native Jackie Greene’s sold out, double-set show at the Fillmore last week, and I left spouting the gospel of this incredible artist and his even more powerful backing band. Please, please see Jackie Greene when he comes through town. Even if you stop reading now, and you follow that direction, I will have done you a huge favor. You’re in for a treat.
Jackie took on the daunting task of playing two hours of a show at the Fillmore, forgoing an opener to play full back-to-back sets. Greeting audiences while they waited was a psychedelic black-lit peacock, the emblem of this new album, The Modern Lives Vol. 1, setting the stage for what proved to be a masterfully produced experience. The lights dim, and his first percussionist walks on, taking his place atop a cajon centerstage, and starts pounding out a swinging, sexy beat. He’s followed by a second percussionist, then slowly each member of the band, with Jackie emerging last, while the song “Tupelo” begins to take shape, and video of a gritty, small town neighborhood replaces the peacock on the projector. I’m immediately swaying to the groove, as is everyone around me. A truly fun ride is beginning and keeps pace for most of the show.
I have so, so many thoughts about Jackie Greene. I hadn’t deep dived into his music previously, but after this show I was so sucked in that I took the plunge. I wholeheartedly love it LIVE more than I do recorded. “Tupelo” was a rollicking, swaggering time at the Fillmore, but on The Modern Lives Vol. 1 it’s much lighter and twangier without the power of the two percussionists. Both can live simultaneously, but a live album is just begging to be recorded with this band, as the material is incredible and this group elevated it to new heights.
Particularly powerful was the way in which Jackie continuously yielded the spotlight to his incredibly talented, and beautifully diverse, band. Each member was given ample solo time to noodle or expand upon the music, shining in their instruments, and it was satisfying to see them all be given the floor. The pianist/organist absolutely commanded attention whenever his hands danced over the keys, and his deep vocals moved with just as much agility, while the percussionists breathed life and a vibrant pulse into the show. It was heartening to see the White dude from NorCal who writes the Blues step back and let his predominately Black and overwhelmingly soulful band take the lead. Music and our world would be better for it if we could all follow Jackie’s example of respect and humility as an artist, especially one in a genre so steeped in history and culture.
In the other main takeaway from the Fillmore, I left locked in an energetic debate with photographer Tracy about the makeup of Jackie Greene’s main crowd, and if it could expand beyond what it is. His skills as a musician and songwriter are obvious, but by the looks of the audience has struggled to reach a younger set, because his music resists one definition. It straddles the line of Dad-Bluegrass and cool, young Bluegrass, then at times veering completely into Country, and even further (such as at the beginning of the show) slinking along with songs not out of place on the True Detective soundtrack, a sound wildly popular with younger rock fans. All of it is unquestionably great, but its lack of one main sound could be lending itself to the very niche crowd he attracts, and that’s a shame, as it could be reaching wider fame in any of those categories if it were to fit each of them just a bit better.
Jackie Greene is amazing, and I want to make sure everyone knows it. This man and his band brought it for this Fillmore show, and if you’re a fan of music, you’d be a fan of Jackie Greene live- it’s genre-bendingly good rock ‘n’ roll at its best. Go see his next show, and continue to pass the word along. He’s got a devoted fan in me now, and I can’t wait til the next chance I get to dance with the crowd to “Tupelo” again- fingers crossed those two percussionists are still along for the ride.