Jonathan Wilson Wallops Music Hall of Williamsburg

February 18th, 2014

Jonathan Wilson – Music Hall of Williamsburg – February 14, 2014

For some, Valentine’s Day is about love and romance, while for others it’s nothing more than a contrivance. And for those in the latter group, Music Hall of Williamsburg was the place to be on Friday night. The tone was immediately set as Jonathan Wilson and his band—Jason Borger on keys, Richard Gowen on drums, Dan Horne on bass and Omar Velasco on guitar—took the stage and launched into the opening (and title) track of Wilson’s second full-length, last year’s excellent Fanfare. It was nearly four minutes of simmering instrumentals before he sang the night’s first words, and it was a signpost of what was to come.

Wilson and Co. performed 16 songs over the course of two-and-a-half hours, putting on an impressive display of ability—while Wilson is supremely talented (as a producer, singer, songwriter and guitarist), his four skilled companions equally matched him. It was like everything that could go right onstage did. Of course, this wasn’t for everyone: Some lose attention when songs are any longer than, say, four minutes, and there were very few, if any, only twice as long as that. However the jamming was never indulgent, rather it was exploratory, as if the songs were trying to figure out where to go next. But none of the tunes ever lingered; instead, it was like that was just how long it took to tell each tale.

If you’re familiar with Wilson and his albums, Fanfare (which features appearances by Jackson Browne, David Crosby and Graham Nash) and Gentle Spirit, you’re no doubt aware of his ’70s influences. And in less capable hands, those influences would be all you’d notice, but his music builds on what came before, like the next logical step in the evolution of that ’70s-rock sound. Highlights included an upbeat “Love to Love” and “Moses Pain”—with many, eyes closed, smilingly singing, “Keep on riding”—Wilson and Velasco, face to face, waging a guitar battle during “Dear Friend” beneath a turning disco ball, “Can We Really Party Today?” with the crowd singing along, “Angel” accompanied by Pearl Charles (drummer for the night’s opening act, the Blank Tapes) on percussion and backing vocals, and an extended, slow-burning “Valley of the Silver Moon”—almost a suite of jamming—with those remaining hooting and hollering in response.

The performance could have easily ended right there, at 15 songs in two hours and 20 minutes. The house lights even came on, but then the band suddenly returned. “Here’s a Madonna song,” said Wilson, and they launched into a 10-minute guitar-shredding “La Isla Bonita.” Sure, it was only the middle of February, but by year’s end, it’s certain to remain one of the top shows of 2014. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

Photos courtesy of Mike Benigno |