Saturday, 30 August 2014

Jake Clemons @ Brass Monkey, Cronulla NSW, Aug 24 2014

Maybe it’s Melbourne’s CBD.

A few weeks back a friend named Jamie and I trekked into Melbourne’s touristy heart to see Jake Clemons play his first show in Australia at a hipster haven called the Toff in Town. It was a Wednesday night. We had three nights of Jake on tap, with shows in Melbourne’s west and southeast the following two nights. We should have been excited, and I guess we were, but mostly because we were seeing JAKE CLEMONS, the guy who’d replaced CLARENCE CLEMONS -- aka King of the World / Master of the Universe / The Big Man -- in the E Street Band. I’d heard Jake stuck around after shows to meet fans and I looked forward to thanking him for allowing Bruce Springsteen to continue playing music considered by longtime fans as lost forever when his uncle passed in 2011.

As for seeing Jake solo ... I was unsure. Not sceptical -- hesitantly enthusiastic. I’d downloaded his EPs but hadn't given them a proper listening. At such times one can turn to external enhancers of merriment -- generally in liquid form -- but on a Wednesday night in a city named the world's 'most liveable' four years running it felt like Jamie and I were partygoers trapped in a dimly lit Kmart. After six years in Melbourne I should know better but my mind couldn't help but yearn for the inherent excitement of seeing a show in NYC, where senses are heightened and expectations put on edge, and how that pulse, that electricity, that ENERGY, is lacking in Melbourne's urban centre.

The show at the Toff was Wednesday, August 13th. Eleven days later I was in a subterranean 'jazz club' called the Brass Monkey in Cronulla, Sydney's infamous southern shire, home of glorious beaches and spectacular xenophobia. To see Jake Clemons. For the sixth time. Whatever was missing that first night as Jamie and I sat eating Mexican takeaway on Swanston Street before the Toff show had been replaced by a fervent appreciation for not just Jake and his bandmates' superior musicianship, but his heart.

There was something else. Jamie made a quick trip north to catch Jake in Brisbane (he even chipped in a review) but three Central Coast shows went unreported. Completely unreported. The reach of this blog may be minimal but zero coverage of a talented trio like Jake, Matt and Brett felt wrong, like a lost opportunity to shine a light on a cause -- yeah, fuck the cynicism -- I believe in. I arranged to meet friends who were driving up from Canberra in Sydney, cashed in some frequent flyer points, and before you can say "Wait, does my wife know I'm doing this?" was watching Jake and the boys at a Circular Quay club called the Basement. Following night it was the Bridge Hotel in Rozelle, and Sunday the Brass Monkey in Cronulla.

Didn't think I'd get around to the freakin' Cronulla show, did ya?

At that first show at the Toff Jake admitted to feeling "way more nervous" playing in a small club than previous gigs at larger Melbourne venues, but to see him stride onto the Brass Monkey's tiny stage was to witness a man at ease. As attractive waitresses filled water glasses upon a dozen or so candle-lit tables Jake played two new songs like a grizzled troubadour, one called 'Bittersweet' Jake said he'd written the week before. Matt and Brett joined him for 'Move On' and we were off.

The two-hour set featured one magnificent surprise -- a cover of Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come' sung in perfect falsetto -- and the first mention of Jake's father passing in February. Predictably, Jake spoke of watching his uncle and then father take their final breaths during 'Song for Hope'. Jake missed only one show at the time, and told us he "never felt more comfortable than that night in Hunter Valley" when he returned to the E Street Band. It's easy to write how courageous it was for the man to confide such feelings to a roomful of strangers, but only an artist knows it's his job to weave that experience into his message. With Jake Clemons, that message is a hopeful one.

And I say embrace it when you can.

Jake, Matt and Brett.

Jake's comfort and confidence were obvious from the start, when he opened with a pair of new songs.

A famous family silhouette.

I'm showing my age but the joint seemed custom-made for Bill Murray's lounge lizard on 'SNL'.

The young man has the patience of Job when it comes to autographs, photos and chit-chat with fans. Here he signs a keyboard that was auctioned off for charity.

My 'Springsteen & Us' cohorts Mary and Piera flew up from Melbourne for Jake's final show. They delivered packets containing photos of Jake and the band's trip to their school, which were warmly received by all, including Simon, the Aussie tour manager. 

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