June 16, 2012

Concert #640 - Val McCallum at McCabe's Guitar Shop (June 10, 2012)

This was Val McCallum's first-ever solo show, as far as I know. Come to think of it, it wasn't really a solo show. "Val McCallum & Friends" would have been a more appropriate description of  what took place at McCabe's last Sunday, as the only song performed by Val with no one else on the stage happened to be the very last song of the encore!

After my many previous encounters with Val, whether as a member of Jackshit or backing up performers such as Shelby Lynne, Freedy Johnston, Creed Bratton and Susanna Hoffs, I could safely say that I knew him better than most any other musician. But when it came to the concept of "Val solo", I just did not know what to expect.

Well, the verdict is in: Val and his friends put on an exceptionally good show, complete with a few high-caliber guests, some announced in advance, others not. It all started with Val singing four of his own compositions, with a young lady singer who goes by the name of Z Berg providing backup vocals. The songs were of the "kinder and gentler" variety, their quality was remarkably good. In two separate songs, Val sang lovingly about his daughter Stella and wife Shelli, the latter being the "Tokyo Girl" Val sang about in the song of the same title. Now that's quite a departure from Beau Shit, Val's alter ego, who often sings about young ladies being murdered (Pretty Polly, Rose Connelly and others).

Then Z Berg took over the lead singer role and what a pleasant surprise that was. She possesses a wonderful voice and a singing style that appealed to me very much. As far as I know, the four songs she sang lead on were her own compositions and they were all stunningly good, especially the one titled "Charades". Add her extremely relaxed and self-confident stage demeanor and what you get is a rare talent who, at least from my vantage point, came out of nowhere. I will now start looking for her work as a member of the Like, her earlier little-known band.

Next in line was up-and-coming singer and guitarist Blake Mills, introduced in a highly complimentary manner by Val. Blake's guitar playing was superb and he can sing, too. His extended guitar jams with Val were a beauty - Neil Young's "Pocohantas" was a highlight. They received support from drummer Danielle Haims and a bassist whose name I cannot recall.

Val McCallum at McCabe's (June 2012)
Jackson Browne and drummer Steve Mugalian took the stage for the playing of "Jesus On The Mainline", which turned into a delightful extended jam, complete with crowd participation.

Jackson Browne stayed on to sing two songs of his own, namely "Miracle Mile" and "Rarebird". For many years, even decades, I did not count myself among Jackson's most ardent fans, but now, after having witnessed a few a his guest appearances at various venues, I am a lot more appreciative of what he does.

The set list, where JB stands for Jackson Browne

The stage got real crowded when Val and Jackson brought out Spanish guitarist Javier Mas and Moldavian violinist Alex Bublitchi, two musicians from Leonard Cohen's current touring band. Out of courtesy, Blake Mills sat on the stage floor after giving his chair to the more senior Javier. What followed was pure magic. Their rendition of Cohen's "A Thousand Kisses Deep", sung by Jackson with the full participation of all other musicians, ranks among the finest performances I have ever witnessed. Just imagine - the lead guitar role shifting seamlessly between the three devilishly great guitar players present on the stage - from Val to Blake to Javier and so on, it was divine, and so was Jackson's singing, and when the song ended, the crowd was on its feet to give the musicians a rarely seen mid-concert standing ovation. Funny thing - the best song of the evening does not appear on the set list.

The set ended with Z Berg coming out yet again for a couple of more songs which were as good as the first ones she sang. Val then came back all by himself for a one-song encore, his own "The End Of The Day", then it was all over. In my book, the concert was a "Perfect 10". 

Val McCallum remained on the stage for the entire duration of the show and acted as a gracious host who allowed his guests to shine. As a long-time follower of Jackshit, I was happy to see his non-Beau side and I liked what I saw.

I just hope that there will be many more such episodes of "Val & Friends".

Jackson Browne and Javier Mas tuning up
Val McCallum thanking the audience
The hugely talented Z Berg, after the concert
Val McCallum (left) chatting after the concert
Guitarist-extraordinaire Blake Mills (left) after the show
Drummer and McCabe's employee Steve Mugalian
The stage

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