Sunday, February 13, 2011
Posted by Nick Toloudis at 6:18 PM
The last time I saw Marshall Crenshaw was two years ago, in Brooklyn. It was a solo guitar performance, and I wrote about it on my old blog. It was a great show, although something about Marshall Crenshaw’s music always cries out for a band. Of course, that may just be because the recordings of his greatest songs are all with a great, loud rock group backing him, and it’s hard for me to hear the songs any other way. The first time I ever saw him, at the Rodeo Bar in lower Manhattan, he was accompanied by a second guitar player and a drummer. I didn’t know his music that well at the time, but all of his songs resonated with me. In particular, I remember “What Do You Dream Of” and covers of Richard Thompson and Rolling Stones songs. When I bought a ticket to see him at the Iron Horse, I did so in the hope that he was touring with a band this time around; no such luck. His latest album, Jaggedland (2009), is full of fantastic guitar playing, some of the best I’ve ever heard from him.
Frank Manzi, a local performer, played a half and hour’s worth of songs on an acoustic guitar to open the show. I didn’t know his music, but I really enjoyed it. He played and sang with a lot of strength and confidence. Clearly, he’s been doing this for a long time.
Marshall Crenshaw took the stage at around 7:50. By this time, the Iron Horse had filled up quite nicely. Not a sellout crowd, I don’t think, but pretty packed nonetheless. He had two electric guitars onstage, a Guild and a Danelectro, and he alternated between the two of them all night long. My disappointment at not seeing a band vanished within seconds after the performance began. His guitar playing is excellent, very fast and tasty, full of unusual chords and, sometimes, fancy picking. The more intricate guitar parts, it seemed, appeared in his more recent material. When he played songs from his latest album, Jaggedtown, there was always some sharp solos played high up on the guitar neck. Jaggedtown is a very good album, by the way, and the ones he played from it, “Passing Through,” “Right on Time,” “Never Coming Down,” “Long Hard Road,” and “Live and Learn,” were among my favorites of the evening. By the time he finished the opening number, “There She Goes Again,” which is one of his very best songs, I had remembered how easily the solo electric guitar goes down once one’s ears adjust. “Dime a Dozen Guy” and “Fantastic Planet of Love” also had some great instrumental passages.
He didn’t speak too much in between songs. He mentioned his love of Indian food, his love for his daughter, and his love for old rock and roll music. He smiled a lot and looked like he was enjoying himself. After the first couple of songs, he noticed Ray Mason, standing at back of the Iron Horse, the same guy who I saw open for James McMurtry back in December. He introduced Mason as “my friend.” And from there, he went into “What Do You Dream Of,” one of my most favorite songs.
For his encore, he talked about the 30th anniversary of the release of his first album before playing “Something’s Gonna Happen,” and then “Better Back Off,” which has one of his subtlest, most sensitive lyrics. The studio recording of that one is also one of his hardest rocking songs. Live, I paid more attention to the singing and the lyrics, which I truly love. Other highlights included his version of Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” and his own “Not for Me,” which is from his first album. I haven’t heard that album from beginning to end in years, and hearing that song, along with “Cynical Girl” and “Someday Someway” and “Mary Anne,” made me want to find a copy of it and listen to it over and over again.