Last Tuesday, myself and a work colleague went to see Jake Clemons play in
in Culdaff. It’s Ireland’s most northernly music venue, and it’s definitely worth checking out. Jake and his band were playing there as part of an Irish tour in support of his ‘embracing light’ EP. I’ve seen him on stage as part of the E-Street band a couple of times, playing saxophone in one of the biggest bands in the world, so I didn’t know what to expect on a small stage in a bar in Donegal. Whatever happened, I knew it was going to be special, and it didn’t disappoint.
The gig began with songs from a Cork singer/songwriter called
who I really enjoyed. She’s a great guitarist and has a great voice. Fortunately for her, but not for us, all her albums were sold out, so I definitely must get one online. She had supported Jake on a previous Irish tour, and he seemed to genuinely have respect for her as an artist. She seemed equally delighted to be there on stage as part of his tour.
The majority of the audience on the night were Bruce Springsteen fans, and maybe like me, they weren’t too familiar with Jake’s solo work. I only knew three songs! This is very unusual for me, because usually I really know a band well before I go to hear them play live. A girl in the front row did come prepared in her Jake Clemons t-shirt though.
Jake and his band came on stage at 9 PM, and the next 2 hours and 40 mins were not what I had expected. The band were lively and loud and full of enthusiasm. They sounded young and energetic, like they were excited to be performing their new material, yet they were very professional and tight. Jake moved between guitar to saxophone and piano like a pro, making me jealous that I couldn’t even learn one instrument properly. He walked around the audience, danced on a table and got a few people to dance with the band while he watched them and relaxed. The crowd took a short while to really get into the performance, but when they did, they enjoyed it and didn’t want it to finish.
The gig had a few highlights. The forth or fifth song was a version of ‘it takes two’ by Ryan Adams, a song I absolutely love. Mid way through this song, Jake played the saxophone for the very first time, to huge cheers from the audience. As the band played on, he then spoke about the loss of his uncle Clarance and the devistating impact it had on him. He didn’t feel like playing the saxophone again, until a friend talked to him and told him how Clarance would have wanted his music to be shared, and that it wasn’t an option for Jake not to do that. It was a fitting tribute in the middle of a great song. The band’s version of ‘a little help from my friends’ was amazing too. Jake invited Nicole back to sing a few songs with the band, after which he told the audience that he was very privileged to play on one of her own songs. She sang the vocals while the band accompanied her with Jake playing sax. The gig ended with an acoustic unplugged version of ‘carry me through’, with each band member taking a verse and singing the chorus together.
You can hear influences of Bruce in Jake’s music at times when he speaks to the audience, but he is a musician in his own right, producing his own original material with a brilliant band. Anyone who was expecting him to sound like Springsteen or act like Clarance was very wrong. He’s unique, but he’s also really really good!
And I discovered that he’s really sound too! After the gig he came back into the bar and talked to people. The owner pointed him in the direction of myself and Deborah first, which was nice since we had to get up for two long days of work in the morning. He gave me a hug and thanked me for coming. He seemed humble and gentle, and quieter than the rocker on stage a while earlier! Deborah talked much more than me, telling him that we worked together, that we were related and that I flew a plane! Not sure how that got in there, but he seemed impressed and amused by how embarrassed I was. More embarrassing was what she said next! It was lovely to go to a gig which was someone elses idea for a change. It was also lovely to have someone describe the stage, where things were and what people were doing. If Deborah sees something interesting, she thinks I need to know about it too, which is a nice thought most of the time. except when she asked Jake if I could touch his hair, because she’d been describing it to be earlier in the night. He was so cool about it all and just said “yeah sure!” and told me that it felt like wool. I’d never touched an afro before and was curious to know what it looked like, but I didn’t want to touch somebody’s that I don’t even know, and definitely not somebody that I hugely admire as a musician. My face must have looked priceless! We got a photograph with him, bought CDs to be signed, and I made Deborah leave as quickly as possible!
So overall, the gig was brilliant, McGrory’s is a fantastic venue that I’ll hopefully be spending more time in, and I got the closest to meeting Bruce Springsteen that I’m probably ever going to get! Even if it was a little bit too close for my liking! I hoped Jake Clemons enjoyed his first visit to Donegal as much as we enjoyed having him there.