Review by Jon Bream
'Garland Jeffreys puts on a New York state of mind at the Ritz in Mpls.'
Jon Bream, Star Tribune, January 23, 2012 (original article at Star Tribune)
As a person, Garland Jeffreys seems like a quintessential New Yorker: a little cocky, very opinionated and of indeterminate ethnicity.
As a musician, Jeffreys sounds like a quintessential New Yorker: a little Lou Reed, a lot of boardwalk soul and plenty of multi-culti influences – as well as beaucoup de Bruce Springsteen, the king of neighboring New Jersey.
It had been at least two decades (maybe three) since Jeffreys performed in Minneapolis. The Jeffreys who came to a standing-room-only Ritz Theater on Friday night still had that New York swagger but it had a sweetness instead of a youthful edginess. His soulfulness almost seemed more pronounced, maybe because it was just Jeffreys and another acoustic guitarist (Gabe Gibson). But the joy was still there, the vivid songs still resonated, and, most significantly, his new tunes sounded terrific.
Having devoted the last 15 years to raising his first and only child, Jeffreys is touring to promote his first U.S. studio album in 19 years. "The King of In Between" is one of those late-career masterpieces. On par with such early Jeffreys triumphs as 1977's "Ghost Writer" and 1981's "Escape Artist," the new album is as impressive as any late-career masterworks by Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan or Paul Simon. And it's light years superior to Bruce Springsteen's last album, "Working on a Dream."
Getting antsy Friday during the long-winded introduction by promoter Marc Percansky, Jeffreys just walked onstage in the middle of Marc's monologue. Jeffreys, 67, looked the part of an aging rocker. He wore a black cowboy shirt with sequins, black tennis with no laces and an Afro whose crown had a mind of its own.
Jeffreys opened with "Coney Island Winter," a snarling rocker (even acoustic) about harsh times that resonated on a cold Minneapolis night. Then he bounced right into "I'm Alive," as he wailed that refrain like it was a mantra for a guy who has survived 9/11 NYC and other challenges. Jeffreys underscored his rejuvenated career with another new tune, "Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me," a blues boogie dripping with determination and irony.
Jeffreys eschewed other "King of In Between" numbers in favor of surveying songs from his entire career. There were memory-evoking highlights including the movie-obsessed "35 Millimeter Dreams," the strutting "Rough and Ready," the reggae-ish "Ghost Writer," the groovy "Spanish Town," the rambunctious "Wild in the Streets" and the soulful "New York Skyline," which was still celebrating the Twin Towers.
He also accommodated a request for "96 Tears," the old ? & the Mysterians hit that Jeffreys transformed into a passionate soul plaint that showed he owes musical debts to Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson.
Jeffreys closed his 110-minute set with "Matador," a big European hit (but a Stateside dud) from the late 1970s that has allowed him to tour regularly abroad. He introduced it by telling a story how A&M Records, his then label, had hated the song and the album it was on. But the tune had two supporters: Gene Simmons, who happened to be at the same studio Jeffreys was working at, and the head of Jeffreys' label in Europe. In short, the long-winded story was almost better than the song itself, which wasn't very New York but its introduction was.