Garland Jeffreys’s Chicago set featured some of his finest and most provocative material. Band members Tom Curiano, Justin Jordan, Brian Stanley and Charly Roth committed themselves completely to every arrangement. The same crew also heavily contributed to Jeffreys’s most recent album, 14 Steps to Harlem.

They opened with ‘Coney Island Winter’, the smash hit from 2011’s The King of in Between, which chronicles the sad decline of an East Coast amusement park. Instrumentally, this New York-centric story features jangly riffs and a series of melancholy chords that border on psychedelia.

“This is a story that happens every day / politicians kiss my ass,” Jeffreys ranted. It’s a song which still speaks volumes about misplaced priorities and urban blight.

’Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me’ and ‘The Contortionist’, from that same album, underscored Jeffreys's penchant for inventive, colloquial lyricism. It was delightful to hear some of these underrated cuts, but Jeffreys was anxious to perform songs from his latest offering, the aforementioned '14 Steps to Harlem', an album that chronicles his father’s remarkable work ethic, Jeffrey’s coming-of-age memoirs and so much more.

And anyone following the Sheepshead native’s 50-year career already knows he’s legendary for deriving inspiration from multiple walks of life and a gaggle of genres. That said, his lively band especially shone and swung on the 'Escape Artist' track, ‘Reggae on Broadway’ from 1981. In that same year, Jeffreys also recorded ‘R.O.C.K.’ and ’35 Millimetre Dreams’. For the first, he snarled like a cornered tom cat, much to the audience’s delight, before segueing into a cerebral spoken word segment.

Jeffreys expressed a lot of pride in the making and recording of his most recent record, which may be his most reflective project thus far. Not surprisingly, this set of largely original songs contains palpable, street smart images, deeply derived from a boyhood in the boroughs, but no two songs are alike. Jeffreys cut away from the slick city fare to tribute his triple-threat wife and manager, Claire Jeffreys, on the tender new ballad, ‘Venus’. He also spoke sincerely about his deep friendship with Syracuse College classmate and fellow musician, Lou Reed. ‘Waiting for the Man’ artfully captured the late Reed’s cool demeanour.

The Beatles’ ‘Help’ is one of the few covers on the new album. Jeffreys boiled this ebullient rock anthem down to a slow simmer. The slightly behind-the-beat tempo worked well and Jeffreys imbued the oft-told story with humility and honesty.

This was a physical set. Jeffreys rolled on the floor and then clutched the microphone stand, like a drowning man searching desperately for a life raft. He waved his fists in the air when waxing politically. He pumped the hands of front-row fans, treating each one like a long-lost pal.

It was also an interactive set. Jeffreys asked the audience to sing along at random times, and frequently asked his wife to come to the stage. When Ms. Jeffreys ultimately obliged, she shimmied up to the stage with a friendly confidence

The electric guitarist, bassist, keyboardist and drummer all had a chance to perform short but heart-racing solos. They also took turns interacting with Jeffreys and with each other. The set recalled an old-school speakeasy when the band launched into the jazzy ‘Nothing Big in Sight’, with Jeffrey’s voice notably warm and poignant on this arrangement. Apparently there are plans in the work for a complete set of jazz standards. If they sound anything like this, that is indeed great news.

A different colour of clever noodling commenced on ‘Mystery Kids’. But with ‘Hail Hail’, Jeffreys ushered his audience back to good old rock ‘n’ roll.

When they came back for an encore after a standing ovation, they did three. ‘R.O.C.K.’ was vibrant and gutsy. Their version of ’96 Tears’, made famous by Question Mark and the Mysterians, incited random dancing in the aisles and from the seats.

The band ended the encore with an abbreviated version of Jeffrey’s rebel-song, ‘Wild in the Streets’. By this time, just about everyone was swaying and dancing. Getting serenaded by a seasoned pro might have been the original plan but, as one fan pointed out, there was even more at stake here: Garland Jeffreys is our last tie to Lou Reed as well as a special kind of New York sound; a sound that seldom fails to excite.

Set List:

Coney Island Winter
‘Til John Lee Hooker Call Me
The Contortionist
Reggae on Broadway
35 Millimetre Dreams
When You Call My Name
Harlem Bound
She Belongs to Me
Ghost Writer
Waiting for the Man
Nothing Big in Sight
New York Skyline
Mystery Kids
Hail Hail


96 Tears
Wild in the Streets

Photos by Philamonjaro

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