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Garland Jeffreys, The Showroom, Talking Stick Resort, Scottsdale, AZ -12/7

“Playing music in front of friends and new acquaintances is the best thing,” Garland Jeffreys declared, kicking off his Talking Stick Resort concert with a rousing version of the lead single “Coney Island Winter” from his first album in 13 years. “I’m Alive” followed, and the pair of gritty rockers set the tone for the evening with Jeffreys performing a handful of songs from the new release, The King of In Between, as well as some of his classic numbers.

Jeffreys continued in the rough and tumble manner, strutting about the stage ala Mick Jagger with micstand in hand, wearing a black spangled jacket, black pants and shoes, and pork-pie hat, belting out a slightly funky, but dark, version of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

The well-received The King of In Between has been met with critical acclaim and as such, has provided Jeffreys with renewed energy. Clearly, he’s having the time of his life, again making music his way. Jeffreys’ music cannot simply be defined as rock and roll, which in part made him a difficult sell to the American music-buying public when he first broke in the early 1970s. Jeffreys instead combines Latin, jazz, soul, reggae and blues with his street-wise lyrics that talk of the politics of race, the realities and struggles of daily life, and human injustice. “I May Not Be Your Kind,” his next song of the evening, is a perfect case in point. A reggae number with soulful undercurrent, this bouncy song chronicles the hardship of his mixed racial heritage. It’s a subject many record executives—and music consumers—found difficult to handle. Still, Jeffreys never shied from making music his way.

“35 Millimeter Dreams” was next before segueing into the obviously ’80s synth sound of “Modern Lovers” from Escape Artist. This received strong recognition from the older crowd, most Jeffreys fans from way back. The band stepped back as Jeffreys picked up an acoustic guitar for a tender, emotion-packed version of “Spanish Town.” Jeffreys dug into the song, reaching emotionally deep into his soul, while crooning the high notes. He looked like he might cry.

Jeffreys stuck with the acoustic for another song before the band got down and dirty with the fuzzy blues rocker “’Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me,” from the new disc. “I ain’t ready to go yet,” Jeffreys told the crowd during the song’s rumbling break. “They told me to cool down, but I’m having too much fun. It’s too good here… I ain’t coming.” The big rocker had the crowd steaming, so Jeffrey’s cooled everyone off with a ballad about his home, “New York Skyline.”

Though Jeffreys had plenty of material he could have dug into from his 40-plus year career, he finished out the evening in upbeat fashion with three smoking rockers, beginning with his first big hit, “Wild in the Streets,” a 1972 single that didn’t appear on album until 1977. His poppy version of ? and the Mysterians “96 Tears,” unmistakable with its swirly organ riffs, closed out the set.

With funky, almost hip-hop beats as the backbone, the encore of “Hail Hail Rock ‘n Roll” sealed the deal for Jeffreys, providing his audience with a high-energy finish, and the artist himself with a wide smile for giving John Lee Hooker another reason to wait: Jeffreys’ place is still on the stage.

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