Greg Brown gets drunk on the moment

29 Jun

Greg Brown

Greg Brown’s been known to drink too much before a set. So the audience wasn’t sure what they were going to get at Freight & Salvage last Thursday when he and Beau, his lanky backing guitarist, first sat down to play, swaying like bodies underwater. The first four songs were played like that, with Beau, a besuited scarecrow with a bobble head, slowly sinking closer to the floor, and Greg, hunched over his guitar and singing in a voice slurred and so deep the front row nearly fell in.

Though this and Greg’s heartfelt intersong patter was enough to keep us entertained, it could be said that during this first fifth of their set the two musicians weren’t playing together, just next to each other. It all fell into place on “Fat Boy Blues” a comic wail about getting a belly that had Greg moaning as his lover, “Baby, I don’t know if you’ve gotten bigger in places, or smaller in others.” From that song forward, frail thin Beau and fat boy Greg were like Jack Sprat and his wife, busy licking the platter clean with their two guitars. We were all in the same boat for the rest of the night, riding a rolling river of a set that splashed equal parts laughter and tears.

Good news, all: Greg Brown drank just enough.

It’s hard to figure out what Mr Brown does that makes his songs as powerful as they are in person. The power isn’t in his words, though he writes well—but he mumbles, shuffles, and wavers through notes and words.  Power isn’t in his playing of the guitar; he plays hot as the sun sometimes, loose nail casual others, but it’s just part of the wash and doesn’t grab you on its own merits. Power isn’t in his singing—he doesn’t try to hold a note in a pretty way.

No his power comes from the whole, not the part. It’s not the singing or the playing, it’s the energy behind them. Mr Brown feels each note, lyric, strum, and moment. Sometimes his voice revs and sputters like an old Cadillac trying to get up to speed, and it’s that struggle, that push behind the note that gets you. Sunburned, thick-necked and wearing a panama hat and sunglasses indoors at 9PM, Greg plays a song just as it is in that imperfect moment, with Beau twanging along beside him, hanging in the air like someone hung his suit jacket in the closet without taking him out of it first.

And it’s a beautiful thing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: