Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeFresh off of the release of his sixth album Boneclouds, alt-country troubadour Mason Jennings was a bit reserved but exceptionally on the mark in a performance at the Pabst Theatre that highlighted his renowned songwriting ability and often-poetic lyrical style.
Comparisons to Bob Dylan and Tom Petty are well-founded for a number of reasons, but any number of approximations cannot accurately describe Jennings' unique folk-rock sound. Beginning with earlier material such as "Bullet" and "The Light, Pt. 2," Jennings and company seemed to be playfully enwrapped in the performance, taking time between songs only to comment on the quality of the theatre and the accommodations in the form of Pabst silos provided to them before the show. As the crowd began to respond, the band raised and lowered the intensity with ease. "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," originally written by John Prine was biting in its lyrics, while the live gem "In Your City" was a texture-steeped sort of lullaby with Jennings alone on stage behind a piano. Returning full-force, "Jackson Square" was energized by some thick bass lines from Chris Morrissey and a powerful outro with drummer Peter Legget and keyboardist Bradford Swanson adding subtle increases to the surge. "Ulysses" provided a deep groove, while "Ballad For My One True Love" yielded an irresistible melody. Adding another element to the show, the set was further dotted with solo performances to much effect. The simple beauty of "Adrian" rang clear with Jennings alone on stage, and the tale behind "Damn What A Beautiful Man" provided a more intimate storytelling moment-- Jennings doesn't remember writing the song and didn't know how to play it until a fan recently played him a recording of one of his shows when he played the tune.
While even the tune he forgot was good, the return of the rest of the band for "Moon Shining Over Water" painted a shimmering scene Jennings could not create alone-- bass, drums, guitar and piano told a story of their own. Keeping the intensity up to the end of the set with "Killers Creek" and "The Mountain," an encore performance of "Jesus Are You Real" proved to be subtly engaging while "Godless," in its screaming, punk assault, was blatantly powerful and capped of the night.
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