Sunday, 24 August 2014

Jake Clemons @ Bridge Hotel, Rozelle/Sydney, Aug 23 2014

Sitting like a disheveled party crasher in the tony Sydney suburb of Rozelle, the Bridge Hotel is a throwback to the halcyon days of Aussie pub rock and bands like Cold Chisel, The Angels, Billy Thorpe, Skyhooks, Rose Tattoo, Mental As Anything, The Saints and a slew of others Americans proudly know nothing about. Tiled walls for easy cleaning, battered amenities, and toilets untouched since the '70s reminded me of every NYC bar I frequented as a bridge and tunnel youth. A place built to withstand Marshall amps stacked to the ceiling and bottles hurled in rock and roll rebellion. When Jake took the stage at 10:00 with an out-of-tune acoustic guitar ("Did you know weather affects tuning?" he asked with a smile, stalling for time) I wished he was surrounded with a full band ready to knock lead paint loose from the Bridge's bombproof walls.

Maybe next tour.

With his guitar tuned Jake kicked off a show that could be divided in two: Part One the first eight songs, all played with passion and flair and all burrowing deeper into Jake's emotions. Part Two began with a perfect -- PERFECT -- version of Springsteen's 'The Wrestler'. On Friday night Jake went to great lengths explaining the rarity of covering a song by the Boss (who in this case, of course, is HIS Boss) before serenading 'I'm On Fire' to a lucky lady pulled from the Basement crowd. No such fanfare proceeded 'The Wrestler'. He mumbled something about a cover and there it was ... a stunning version of a song written for the 2008 Mickey Rourke film of the same name. As 'I'm on Fire' had the night before, 'The Wrestler' segued into 'You're a Friend of Mine' with the precision of an Italian sports car changing gears.

And then Jake introduced the next song, 'A Fool in Love', thusly:
My name is Jake Clemons and I was blessed to have Clarence Clemons as my uncle.
For the kids out there ... THAT'S how you introduce a motherf*cking song.

Perhaps feeling sheepish about repeating stories he asked how many of us had seen multiple shows but it thankfully didn't dissuade him from detailing the song's origin. We were taken back to 2008 and a phone call Jake took from Clarence. Clarence asking Jake to be best man at his fifth wedding. Jake hedging, taking his role seriously and offering sound, future alimony-preventing advice. Finally, Clarence responding to Jake's reticence with the gory details of his first shattered heart.

After that, something cracked.

A rousing 'You Must Be Crazy' sent Jake into the audience and Brett Mayer played a keyboard solo that recalled mid-'70s Stevie Wonder before Jake & Co. launched into 'Two', their cover of the Ryan Adams song that's the centrepiece of every show. I wrote about its performance at the Basement but it demands recognition every night, as is encapsulates all that makes Jake such a unique performer: honesty, pain, healing and hope. Halfway through the boys slowed it down and Jake talked about being on tour in Dublin and receiving the horrible news. About flying home and spending Clarence's last week with him. Then Jake stopped talking. He wiped his eyes. And began to heal, again, before our eyes. During the song's sax solo Jake slipped in a few classic Clarence riffs, including the one from 'Dancing in the Dark'. He was celebrating his uncle's continued presence in his life -- which he said is stronger now that it ever was -- and so were we.

Final show of the Oz tour kicks off in a few hours in Cronulla at the Brass Monkey in Cronulla. 'Springsteen & Us' cohorts Mary and Piera have flown up from Melbourne to be there. Should be a bittersweet night.

Jordan Millar has been Jake's NSW opener. The young man wields a mean acoustic guitar. 

Unlike the stage at The Basement -- which was barely a foot off the floor -- the Bridge Hotel's loomed like a ship's bow over a table-dotted sea. Jake's already a taller-than-average musician; there were times he loomed over us like Godzilla over the Tokyo skyline. The raised stage also created moody and at times spooky lighting effects

Jake began his set with an acoustic song written "the last time I was here" that included mentions of the Australian Central Coast, New Zealand and the Cape of Good Horn in South Africa. It was a harbinger of the personal night that was to come. 

No matter the room or crowd it's a given that Jake Clemons will leave the stage and walk among his audience. I've yet to see him be unsuccessful at building a connection -- even with those who can't be bothered to turn their heads from the bloody stage when he's behind them ...  

Jake need only lunge for his saxophone to draw applause. During Friday night's show he blew so hard he looked ready to pass out. Last night's playing was more soulful, more connected to the emotion of each song.  

Jake once again asked the Gold Coast's Rachel Gilligan to accompany him on backing vox for a pair of acoustic songs. 

Can't write much about the look on Matt's face other than it was temporary. It couldn't have been a result of Brett Mayer's guitar playing. Could it? 

It feels voyeuristic to guess what was on Jake's mind last night but it was clear he was connecting with raw emotions that he couldn't help but share. His eyes welled up when recalling the passing of his magnificent uncle, and it's no exaggeration to say others did the same (a woman beside me was sobbing). 

Woke up this morning with the sax part of 'Song for Hope' looping through my brain. While the Bridge Hotel crowd at times fell dead silent, it responded to Jake's entreaties to stomp, clap and sing along. 

Jake busted a guitar string during 'Carry Me Through' so Matt hopped on stage and quickly tuned a replacement. Another sublime finale.

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