On Wednesday evening The Saint played host to a personal, intimate, sit-down-n-shut-up affair of the acoustic guitar led type, so when it started, I duly sat down, shut up, and proceeded to be intrigued by the various types of stripped down poetics delivered into the atmosphere from the booze-doused, to the cosmos-cloaked, and even the Punk-tinged.
A lot of hipsters try their damnedest to look like middle aged truck drivers, Tony Tedesco, front man of Asbury’s own Full Fathom Five does it effortlessly. Dressed in flannel, sporting a tightly trimmed Mohawk, and slinging an Elvis Presley signature Epiphone acoustic guitar, Tedesco’s alcohol and heartbreak-inspired songwriting, with the exception of one fun little number about shooting your dad in the head with a .38, was accompanied by a mandolinist who provided tasty lead licks and tandem backing vocals, exhibiting a glimpse of what could be found on the aforementioned Full Fathom Five self-titled 2012 debut.
Tedesco wields a prowess for abrupt endings with very direct and powerful lines like “Charm is a deceiver/Beauty is fleeting” and “Even if I was twice the man I am/I’d never be half the man you need”. It left the audience craving a little more and left the room lively for the next set of performers.
Kevin Cooper is a musician who lives in two worlds: the jam band’s and the singer-songwriter’s and his set list catered to both camps as half the tunes will be used on an upcoming acoustic album, while Heather Raynes was a true anomaly. In a town full of aspiring artistes, Raynes is unapologetically Pop. Raynes does’t appear interested in heady mumbo-jumbo, she wants to leave you smiling and with a great tune in your head, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Raynes’ playing was flawless without hiring professional backing help, and was coupled with a pitch perfect performance of ear worm compositions. he songstress has chosen a difficult path to top: to be both an artisan, carefully crafting pieces of music for connoisseurs, and an entertainer, selling ear-candy to the masses. It will be interesting to see how Raynes handles these challenges, and how Asbury Park handles her.
Nels Andrews was the headliner for the evening’s show, and it is easy to see how he so impressed the staff of The Saint. He was the most adventurous act, not afraid to use obtuse lyricism, extended fingerpicked chords, and his feet to play an Eastern version of a harmonium, an instrument first heard in Scotland and used by traditional Scottish musicians to produce a backing drone. Andrews’ set was a fascinating mix of old and new, singing a medieval Scottish folk song in his distinctive style (which sounds almost like James Taylor at times, but a bit heavier), reflected on the faded glamour of Marlon Brando and old New York, and envisioned seeing space whales swimming by his cosmos surfing rocket. He is a storyteller and a poet, and worthy of closer attention.
The Boardwalk’s own Chris Brown was a last-minute addition to the bill, and accordingly the last to perform. I should say that Brown is one of my favorite singer-songwriters in Asbury Park, although he says that others don’t like his voice. I suppose it’s a question of taste, but I think it’s just dandy. Where Andrews’s brogue sits in the cool, medium-low, laid back tessitura of the range of voices, Brown’s is a bit higher and louder as solo Punk writes and arranges in a more adventurous style than anyone else who performed.
As mentioned, Chris Brown honed his craft in the Punk scene, and its evident in the physical intensity of his performance: booming vocals, sustained high notes, and such strumming that you are shocked he doesn’t snap 3 strings a song. His guitar is covered in scratches from picks wounds and other battle scars. However, there is a direct, honest artistry to what he does. Yes, he can overpower the listener, but he’s more interested in winning you over, not bowling you over. His songwriting is fantastic, so good that one of his songs, “Sailing with Jerry”, was nominated for a Jersey Acoustic Music Award. Many of his songs talk about the good ole days, but he is also capable of singing about more personal topics, and of telling heartbreaking stories. He has a gift for expression, and if he ever were to write prose I for one would love to read it. If it were to even come close to the quality of music it would be remarkable.