Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Eric Johnson - Acoustic Brilliance At The Crest Theater In Sacramento


Eric Johnson put on a quietly dazzling show at the Crest Theater in Sacramento, California last night to an adoring audience. It was an excellent turnout for a Tuesday evening, and everyone knew why they were there. No tire kickers, or lookie loos (sorry, I'm just back from the NAMM Show) - no, this crowd knew the man, and knew the music, and that made for a beautiful evening.

EJ is Eric's new acoustic album, and he played most of it and more in two sets stretched over a couple of blissful hours. Eric's easy going demeanor lends itself perfectly to the living room like setting of a chair surrounded by some acoustic guitars, and an electric keyboard a few steps away that allowed him to move easily between them as he casually worked his way through the setlist.

The night was made even more special by my meeting up with Tower Of Power organist/pianist Roger Smith, who when he was twenty years old played with a teenaged Eric Johnson and bassist Roscoe Beck in a band named Blind Mellon, which pre-dated the guitarist's days in the Electromagnets. Roger regaled us with tales of early jams, building their first studio, and even asking Eric's dad permission to take his son out on the road for gigs.



Photo: John Bland
Kicking the set off with the Simon & Garfunkel classic, "Mrs. Robinson", which also is the opening track of EJ, Johnson had the very willing audience in the palm of his hand, and he kept them there throughout the night. Johnson's smooth, sophisticated approach certainly keeps things from ever getting bogged down, as acoustic performances can do in the hands of those less well versed. A combination of a very melodic voice and some stupendous chops that he makes look so easy insured that there was never a dull moment, and many of the pitfalls that can derail an acoustic performance were skillfully avoided. Johnson deftly pops and slides single note fills into the vocal numbers that always made you smile, and appreciate his sheer musicality and virtuosity.

While everyone knows of Johnson's legendary prowess on the guitar, his piano playing is very elegant and sophisticated in much the same fashion that so informs his guitar work. His chord voicings are expansive, expressive, and he rarely utilizes block chords or pentatonic scales, instead choosing to incorporate a more harmonically sophisticated method of working the keyboard just as he does on the guitar's fretboard. "Water Under The Bridge", which opened the second set is one such song, and it evokes the memory of Sir Elton John's more sonorous keyboard outings with a gorgeous vocal melody to boot.

Another thing that Johnson does brilliantly is reimagining classic cover tunes such as his final encore, a beautiful piano driven rendition of The Beatles's "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away", which surely had John Lennon smiling somewhere in the cosmos.

Johnson reaches deep into his listening past to resuscitate Les Paul and Mary Ford's 1951 hit, "The World Is Waiting For The Sunset" as an instrumental, and a right toe-tapper (fingerpicker?) it is!

If, by chance, you are unsure as to whether you wish to check out Eric Johnson in an acoustic setting, put those wonderings away. Without question it is a more laid back evening and event than one of the maestro's electric outings, but this satisfies deeply in a different way, but one which you will surely appreciate when you experience it.


        

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