Jimmie Dale Gilmore / Anna Egge – Noe Valley Ministry (San Francisco, CA)
An unusually structured show at an unusual venue — the tiny Noe Valley Ministry — this concert found Jimmie Dale Gilmore balancing the intimate with the carnivalesque. The songs were stripped bare in the first set, with just enough music to hold the feeling up, before Gilmore and his band transformed their second set into a celebratory wake for the ghosts of rockabilly, way-back country and folk. The “opening act” actually came inbetween those two sets, with promising newcomer Anna Egge winning over a crowd largely unfamiliar with her music.
Gilmore began the evening alone, strumming “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown”, a song capable of raising goosebumps even after hundreds of listens. His three band members joined, one by one, in a brief acoustic set highlighted by two Butch Hancock songs and Walter Hyatt’s timelessly sweet “Georgia Rose”.
Then Egge loped onstage, looking like a teenager on her way to an outdoorsy summer job. “I’m going to start with a sad folky thing,” she said. “That’s why they hired me, so when they come out it sounds like they’re rocking harder than they are.” Most of the audience had never heard of Egge, but she charmed them, Iris DeMent-style, by interspersing raw, plaintive songs with laconic commentary.
Gilmore and his band retook the stage for an electric, eclectic journey through the musical styles he synthesizes into his own “contemporary folk.” “Some contemporary folk songs were written last week. Some were filtered through the ages,” he said, commenting on his two Grammy nominations in that category. The band swung from ye olde folk (a martial rendition of “Darcy Farrow”) through rockabilly-laced versions of songs such as “Judy” (covered by Elvis) and Boz Scaggs’ rousing “Up To You”. Bassist Brad Fordham brought rockabilly flavor to the banquet, while Chicago bar-band veteran Robbie Gjersoe pulled the blues out of songs by Gilmore and Hancock. The band favored material from older Gilmore records, playing only three songs from the hard-to-reproduce Braver Newer World.
The set was exceptionally loud for such a small venue, and the dynamics occasionally threatened to blow out the windows, especially during the thunderous rock ‘n’ roll finale of “Outside The Lines”. Gjersoe’s seemingly effortless ability to juggle musical styles, coupled with a slight case of guitar face, hovered somewhere between crowd-pleasing and cheesy. In the end, though, Gilmore’s voice, so quirky, sincere and beautiful that it could redeem even a Michael Bolton ballad, brought the show to higher ground. Indeed, it came as a surprise when he said, toward the show’s end, “Just two more before my voice gives out.” Doesn’t his voice go on forever?