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Tobias Jesso Jr. Makes Heartfelt Humanity Fun in Williamsburg

October 15th, 2015

Tobias Jesso Jr. – Music Hall of Williamsburg – October 14, 2015

Tobias Jesso Jr. – Music Hall of Williamsburg – October 14, 2015
If you’d only ever heard Tobias Jesso Jr.’s debut album, Goon, without knowing anything more about him, you might walk into his show expecting to find a young sentimentalist alone at his piano, eyes closed and submersed in the well of emotions that feed his personal songwriting and soul-searching. Last night, Jesso’s first of two sold-out appearances at Music Hall of Williamsburg, proved to be an altogether more lively and interactive affair. With unexpected showmanship bolstered by the backing of Duk’s jazz stylings, Jesso’s performance felt like a coming-out party, quickly dispelling the notion that anyone was there to quietly observe a recital from a fellow working out the perplexities of being a romantic through his sincere ballads.

To begin things in this tone, Duk launched into a swinging ragtime introduction from the balcony to the crowd’s delighted surprise. When they made their way down to the stage to play the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song as Jesso’s entrance, the communal sense of gleeful anticipation was established, a climate of design no doubt for a performer intent on showing that—antithetical to his songwriting themes of pained rumination and heartache—fun could be had in its sharing. Jovial from the outset, the singer-songwriter led off with his most upbeat song, “Crocodile Tears.” The good mood carried through the entire evening, with Jesso adding affable banter between each song, keeping everyone loose and laughing. And while his goofball demeanor kept things from becoming too wistful, fans of his gentle confessions on love and life were not misled. Jesso is clearly charmed by the idea that people connect his songwriting to something profound in their own lives, so he delivered tunes like “Without You” and “Can’t Stop Thinking About You” like manifestos of sincerity, and that mixture of the happiness of being present with the identification of his pleas of emotional recognition was evidenced by a crowd of swaying individuals, arms draped over the shoulders of one another.

There are times when people just want to latch onto expression not dressed up in irony and metaphor—something that’s just plain heart-on-sleeve sentiment that any human can identify with, regardless of depth of insight. And what they respond to in Jesso is what they find in an endearing gesture, self-effacing and disarming. So his gentle, pleading voice and classic song structure exist in a way that come across by pleasant happenstance. Because at his core, Tobias Jesso Jr. is just a (very tall) guy with a piano and a mop of curls, like the kid in school who sat alone drawing in the corner. And performances like last night’s, with its infusion of levity and charisma, add dimension to the character behind the simple songs of heartfelt humanity. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly

Photos courtesy of Pip Cowley | pipcowleyshoots.com