Story and photos By Andy ArgyrakisA lot of artists are huge fans of the Beatles and there are also many who follow Buddy Holly as a muse, which in the case of Marshall Crenshaw, seemed to be his blueprint to career beginnings. To justify that the first reference, the singer/songwriter made his professional debut with a group called ASTIGAFA (which in actuality came from a Fab Four reference meaning "A Splendid Time Is Guaranteed for All") and later toured in the Beatlemania extravaganza. To back up the latter, the troubadour also dawned a pair of thick, black-rimmed spectacles for a movie role, playing none other than the "Peggy Sue" performer in La Bamba. Besides turning out to be lucrative opportunities for Crenshaw, they were also the friendly pop/rock outline for which he made mounds of music, often to underground acclaim aside from the major breakthrough "Someday, Someway."
That dedicated fan base- more than just a singular song- led to a packed Schubas for the second of a two night stand, which focused on the tunesmith's catalogue, and of course, that super catchy smash. And though he delivered in a way that was congenial and even captivating at times, there was a major element missing from this solo acoustic endeavor. Much of what's made up the songsmith's vast body of work has been the sweet and sunny arrangements that nestle deep into listener's heads and remain there for days. Sure, his lyrics are always well developed and almost all the material tells intelligent stories, but without the instrumental assistance, the concert felt sparse and less satisfactory than it should've been. Cheerful cuts like "Mary Anne" and "Whenever You're On My Mind"- though beautiful and infectious- may have been improved with additional amplification. Like his aforementioned influences, some additional harmonies might have also punched up "Something's Gonna Happen," "You're My Favorite Waste of Time" and "Cynical Girl" to recall sugary 60s vibrations steeped in emotion.
Now the argument could easily be made that the acoustically pristine Schubas is an intimate venue and therefore a full band would never be necessary or even possible. That may certainly seem plausible, but several local and national acts through the years have utilized at least a few accompanying instrumentalists to flesh out their acoustic flavoring. Granted, this engagement was billed as Crenshaw only (so there were no surprises there) though he's clearly capable of assembling appropriate backers from a 1980s run with Warner Brothers through his most recent Razor and Tie release. Take for instance 2003's What's In the Bag?, which bubbles over with delightful pop backing and even the occasional soulful beat. Using that as a guide, rather than diving in unaccompanied, would've been an extremely natural progression bringing the set list to even greater life.
Despite sticking to the decision to go at it alone, Crenshaw still was conversational with the crowd and was able to make up for part of the on stage emptiness by telling stories and allowing his lyrics to lie vulnerably in front of the hushed crowd. And come the obligatory sing-a-long "Someday, Someway," the audience more than made up for the lack of bodies pumping out the power chords by singing along with karaoke-like craziness. It may have been the most withstanding track and yet another feather in Crenshaw's talent cap, but like the aforementioned, that aptitude didn't come across as overtly without a much-needed wall of sound.
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