Saturday, 28 March 2015

Jake Clemons @ Westernport Hotel, San Remo, 27 March 2015

Jamie McLellan and I had a lot of time to kill driving to San Remo from St Kilda. An hour and 45 minutes, to be precise. A lot of our brilliant discourse involved why the fuck we were driving to San Remo -- a tiny town on the eastern side of the bridge to Phillip Island -- to see Jake Clemons less than 24 hours after catching him at the conveniently located Northcote Social Club. 'Why' isn't really the right word: we love the guy, respect his vision, and want to see him succeed outside of his much-beloved place in the E Street Band. Plus, Jamie flew over 2700 kms from Perth to be in Melbourne for Jake's final shows of his 2015 'Bittersweet' tour, so San Remo was a no-brainer. But as we drove past grazing cattle and through quiet country towns we couldn't get our heads around why Jake and his people chose a place so far from a town packed with great venues ... other than a desire to see Phillip Island's famous penguin parade or, as Jamie suggested, Jake needing to surf some southern coast waves before returning to the States.

Six hours later, driving north on a black ribbon of highway, we weren't mouthing off about Jake's marketing strategy. We were too busy congratulating ourselves on venturing to San Remo's Westernport Hotel and sharing an unforgettable two hours with a couple dozen lucky bastards (and bastardettes) who'd come from near and far -- mostly far -- and been rewarded with greatness.

It wasn't a promising start. When we arrived at the Westernport only locals having a Friday night out with their kids occupied a sprawling dining area. Quite a difference from the night before, when walking into the Northcote was like arriving at a family reunion and Jamie and I were engulfed by friends made at Springsteen concerts and 'Springsteen & Us' soirees and Jake's 2014 shows. The Westernport felt as welcoming to a member of the Jake flock as a highway rest area. While sipping pale ales Jamie and I were eventually greeted by Selena, a familiar face who'd driven down with friends, so we weren't alone. But close. We inhaled a pair of ol' reliable chicken parmas and made our way past a pair of pool tables full of mopey surfers to a wide stage, an empty parquet floor, and a few unoccupied tables at either side. The dire warnings voiced during the trip down from Melbourne were coming to fruition.

Eventually Westernport staff cleared the area of non-concert attendees. I counted exactly 18 people at 9:00, all seated along the room's peripheries. From the stage the room would have looked like a sparsely attended junior high school dance. Jamie and I wondered if moving tables was a possibility -- when lovely merch girl Jess suggested the same we all pitched in, knowing Jake and the boys didn't deserve to face an empty floor. Soon couches formed a back line to three or four tables and a dozen chairs and at 10:00 pm 30 people occupied the parquet floor and presented a cluster of humanity. Jake eschewed entering the stage from a wing by hopping up in front of his centre mic. It was that kind of informal night.

It was also about to become a very special night.

Like the most satisfying of payoffs, the start offered little hint of what was to come. You could hear a koala sneeze in a Phillip Island gum tree as Jake clipped on his saxophone. If he seemed slightly distant we in attendance matched that with a self-consciousness about the unjustifiably sparse crowd on a fucking Friday night. The warm, convivial aura of the Northcote was a memory replaced by too much space in a high-ceilinged room two hours from the Big Smoke.

As Matt Musty, Brett Mayer and newcomer Mark Rashotte kicked off the show Jamie and I raised our glasses and smiled smiles of being in exactly the right place with exactly the right people. Quickly -- very quickly -- the music took over. Our faith was rewarded. The set was a joyride of songs made familiar during Jake's 'Embracing Light' tour enhanced by a few new ones that the band tore into like supercars circling Phillip Island's Grand Prix Circuit. Jake introduced one called 'Sick Broken Broken' (or something similar) that introduced their combined capacity for rockabilly funk and rose my expectations for Jake's overdue EP. (After the show Jake showed me the culprit: a mangled little finger on his right hand). Jamie and I both remarked afterward that Jake's vocals seem more assured than the previous tour, like he's more comfortable making it the focal point of his heady musical arsenal. On this night, in this place, in front of this intimate group of people, whatever inhibitions he may have felt at the show's beginning seemed to slip away and his vocals become more passionate, his sax solos more forceful, even his body language got looser and more expressive. By the time Jake dedicated a spectacular version of Ryan Adams's 'It Takes Two' to Liz, another familiar face, it was undeniable: The man had dug down, shrugged off a crowd way too small for his enormous talent, and delivered. Call it professionalism, dedication, or an inscrutable manifestation of his family tree, Jake turned the potentially bitter into something much more than sweet by gifting us the opportunity to tell those who chose not to haul ass to San Remo, 'Seriously dude, you had to be there.'

Embracing light, even in shadow.

Tour manager Simon joined the boys for a show closing 'Carry Me Through'.

Standing to Jake's left are a couple from Indiana named Ciola (forgive my guesswork spelling) and Dan, who have been following Jake and the band down the coast from Sydney. A truly lovely couple. 


Anonymous said...

It was Indeed a wonderful night.

Anonymous said...

A truly magical evening.