Steve Forbert – Valentine’s (Albany, NY)
Three songs into Steve Forbert’s solo set, in the middle of “Going Down to Laurel”, a middle-aged, Mike Ditka look-alike in a golf shirt is swooning against a speaker at the side of the stage, exclaiming “Sheesh!” over and over to himself. As the applause subsides, he blows out through his thick brush of a mustache, shakes his head in wonderment, and takes a pull on a beer. “There ain’t nothin’ prettier than that,” he says with a grave sense of finality, then lists off toward the men’s room.
Another man sings every word to the first three songs directly in front of Forbert. Finally, after “Laurel”, Steve twiddles with a knob, peers down, and says in that unmistakable boyish rasp, “You can’t sing every word this close to me…We are not the Everly Brothers.”
This healthy brand of man-love certainly isn’t the only kind of adoration heaped on Forbert this night, but it’s demonstrative enough of his appeal. The large crowd hangs on every flourish from the moment the road veteran spins on a boot heel, begins to strum his battered acoustic, and curls his lean frame hungrily toward the microphone.
Clad in faded jeans, with shirt sleeves rolled above his elbows, he kicks things off with “Lay Down Your Weary Tune Again” and “Real Live Love”, both from 1995’s Mission Of The Crossroad Palms. The latter inspires a spontaneous, albeit initially tentative, answer and call with the audience that will eventually evolve into some darn fine backup singing throughout the night.
As Forbert lays out his catalogue, it becomes apparent how consistently excellent his songwriting has been throughout a long career. The outdated and useless “new Dylan” tag aside, it’s nevertheless fair to call him one of our finest American songwriters. Forbert’s vigorous performance and youthful appearance seem to make him an artist outside of time, having sprung full-blown as a wizened songwriter in the ’70s and releasing some of his strongest, most earthy work in recent years.
Tonight, classic Forbert fits comfortably with his ’90s output as he alternates between bluesy stompers (pounding out a backbeat with one cowboy boot) and the ragged prettiness that’s become his hallmark. Recent examples of the latter, such as “Rose Marie” and “Strange”, leave the Albany crowd rapt, eyes shining.
Later on he unleashes a spirited take on the Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” and the song that could serve as his anthem, “So Good To Feel Good Again”, which finds him “home on the highway, back on the track.” Indeed, tonight’s uplifting performance is evidence enough that Forbert’s constitution is well-suited to the troubadour lifestyle. Perhaps the title track to his 2000 album Evergreen Boy said it best: “I’m an old soul with plans/I’m a dream-head that can make a new start, I guess/If the landscape says yes.”