Cris Jacobs Band, The 8×10, Baltimore, MD – 10/28
It was a cold night in Baltimore when The Bridge front man Cris Jacobs debuted his new band at The 8×10, a club that has significantly helped shape his ten year career. Since The Bridge officially announced their break-up at the beginning of this summer, Cris has appeared solo and different ensembles, but his primary project, Cris Jacobs Band, features The Bridge’s Mike Gambone on drums, longtime collaborator Ed Hough on back-up guitar and percussion, along with the addition of Dave Hadley on pedal steel and Jake Leckie on upright bass. It being Halloween weekend, I noticed a clown nose or two sprinkled throughout the crowd, and even though the venue wasn’t as packed as it had been this past summer during The Bridge’s annual residency — most likely due to the unusual cold front — the new band doled out the sweet treats and brought the heat. Bridge songs like Heavy Water and Sanctuary (the latter co-written with Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin) sounded stripped down without the usual accompaniment of keys and sax, and although it may take some ears time to adjust to the new instrumentation, getting to know this band is going to be a lot of fun.
Cris has assembled a great group of guys to achieve the new sound. The call and response between his guitar and Dave Hadley’s pedal steel takes familiar jams to new heights. Jacobs has played with drummer Gambone since 2005 and it shows in how they communicate with ease and progress improvisational sections. When Cris asked the crowd if they liked the new band, somebody behind me yelled, “Yeah, but we like The Bridge, too!” I think some fans are still unsure as to how to take the news, but I think most musicians would agree that change is essential for growth. And if you listen to the lyrics, change and loss are themes that resonate with Jacobs. With a voice that falls somewhere between Warren Haynes and Lowell George, he is well suited for the emotional delivery these songs require. After a bluesy original, Mama Was a Redbone, Cris spoke to the crowd about the recent passing of a friend of the band before giving a soulful rendition of a new one, Times Worth a Million, a sort of requiem for the fallen, accented with phrases like “everything shall pass” and “dying will come.” This one stretched out, the dueling interplay between guitar and pedal steel being very tasteful here, with some West African sounds emerging.
All those years on the road paying dues have shaped Cris into a musician who is comfortable in his own skin, a leader who can move a crowd and communicate with his band at the same time. Without the wall of sound that came to define The Bridge there’s more room for him to play around within the jam, and he takes full advantage of the space. A highlight of the evening for me was the reworking of Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks, which Cris played on a cigar box guitar, lap steel style. Jacobs and Hadley’s double slide action in this jam took us on a whaling expedition out into uncharted areas before dissolving into a bass solo by Jake Leckie, who moved with ease to the bow before bringing it back to the motive. Leckie then kicked off a cover of The Meters’ Out in The Country, which was followed by another cover, Jeff Buckley’s Lover You Should Have Come Over. The set-closing Colorado Motel, which appeared on The Bridge’s last album, National Bohemian, is a great example of the finely crafted songs that Cris is capable of writing – It has a classic ring and tends to linger in the ears. The encore, Take This Hammer, had a bit of trick ending before it picked up the pace for a good old fashioned stomp to close out the night.
CJB is a different kind of band than The Bridge. I half expected a more laid back acoustic treatment, since I know Cris has often appeared solo, but I was pleasantly surprised at how rockin’ some of these tunes could be, and the room got a little bit crazy toward the end of the night. It’s always good to feel the floor shake at the 8×10. The original owners put springs under the hardwood, so when everybody starts dancing in front of the stage, the wood gives and it starts to feel like a moon bounce. While it might not have been the full-tilt hoedown of a Bridge show that fans are used to, the music definitely sounds more focused.
With the Bridge’s farewell performance scheduled for the end of this month, Cris Jacobs Band has very few shows on the calendar as of yet, but they do plan to go into the studio at the end of this year – so we’ll have to stay tuned.