Special Guest Matt Nakoa Returns to Tickle the Ivories
It was a jam-packed house on Sunday, April 3, when two legendary singer-songwriters took to Landmark’s stage to provide almost three hours of fabulous entertainment.
The sold-out performance began with John Sebastian, well-known from his time with The Lovin’ Spoonful as well as his prolific solo career. Sebastian, who performed at Woodstock, is an inductee of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
As his first number, Sebastian launched into the Mississippi John tune, “I’m Satisfied.” He spent the next hour and a half alternating between relating fascinating tales of his experience in the music world and playing the songs that he made famous. His stories covered his early interactions with Tom Rush, his work with The Lovin’ Spoonful, his musical childhood (his father John Sr. was a well-known “classical” harmonica player), his Woodstock performance, and his musical inspiration. What I found most charming was how he would describe the genesis of a song, including in some cases how it had been inspired by someone else’s song. For example, prior to playing The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic,” he told a tale of how he had been inspired by the rising chord progression in the Martha and the Vandellas song, “Heatwave.” (And then he played a bit, to demonstrate what he meant).
Sebastian is an accomplished guitarist, but what you may not have known is that he is a standout harmonica player as well. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard his equal. His set included an eclectic mix of blues, pop, rock and jug band music.
Highlights of the night included his story and performance of “Welcome Back,” the theme song from the 70’s TV show, Welcome Back Kotter, and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s second hit, “You Didn’t Have to be so Nice” during which he was accompanied by a spontaneous choral outburst in the balcony, which even included harmony! [Shout out to you balcony singers – whoever you may be – we felt like applauding you as well.] The audience absolutely loved Sebastian and sang along frequently.
After an intermission, Tom Rush took the stage. Like Sebastian, Rush has a vast and impressive background spanning well over 50 years of music making. Also, like Sebastian, Rush delighted the audience with a mix of stories and songs.
Rush initially took the stage, accompanied by Sebastian on harmonica, to perform “Solid Gone” (sometimes referred to as “Cannonball”) from his 1965 self-titled album. Rush sounded great, with his deep, distinctive voice, and great fingerpicking guitar style. Sebastian’s harmonica added the appropriate train sounds.
Pianist/singer/guitarist Matt Nakoa came out and accompanied Rush for most of the rest of the set. Nakoa is a familiar face at Landmark. He performed there just this past January as part of John Platt’s On Your Radar concert series, along with Roosevelt Dime and Caravan of Thieves. I was impressed with him then, and was equally impressed with his work with Tom Rush. His enthusiastic and energetic keyboard style brought a smile to both the audience and Rush.
Some of the highlights were two humorous songs – “Ladies Love Outlaws” (with Sebastian on harmonica) and “Old Blevins,” and of course Joni Mitchell’s lovely “Circle Game” – an audience favorite.
Nakoa contributed stellar piano solos to the “50’s rock and roll hit” that Tom recently penned, titled “How Can She Dance Like that” as well as to the blues number “Drop Down Mama.”
Nakoa took a solo turn on stage performing his own song, “Stormchaser” on guitar. He’s got a wonderful clear voice and is a talented multi-instrumentalist. Keep your eye on him – I predict you’ll be seeing a lot more of Matt Nakoa in the future.
Tom Rush returned to do two solo numbers – “Drift Away” played beautifully on a 12-string guitar, and “Remember Song,” a comical number about aging which began with “Looking for my wallet and my car keys, well they couldn’t have gone far. And just as soon as I find my glasses, I’m sure I’ll see just where they are.”
Rush was joined onstage by Nakoa and Sebastian for the final number, “Driving Wheel,” and then returned for the encore, an explosive version of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” The audience cheered enthusiastically and could be heard remarking to each other “What a great show!” as they exited the theater.
The next performance at Landmark on Main Street will be Graham Parker and Brinsley Schwarz on Saturday, April 9th. For more info, visit www.landmarkonmainstreet.org
Photography by Steven Sandick