Glenn Jones – Portland – The Space, ME – 2006-07-24

Glenn Jones
Where: Portland – The Space, ME.

When: 2006-07-24

Over the years, Portland, Maine has become the home to a small, burgeoning do-it-yourself scene with a knack for the decidedly left of the musical center. For the past 10 years, Cerberus Shoal haw existed as unsung heroes-of-sorts for this artsy scene, with its sizeable membership constantly engaging in other side projects and avant-undertakings. It was one such budding of the Cerberus family that first drew my attention to a show at The Space, a solo performance by bassist/multi-instrumentalist Erin Davidson, Dilly Dilly her chosen sobriquet. When further investigation revealed that Dilly Dilly would be sharing the stage with Pelt axe-man and neo-Fahey Jack Rose, it didn’t take long for myself and a friend to jump in the car and head to the heart of Maine’s one “true” city.

The Space lovingly refers to itself as an “alternative arts venue,” doubling as an art gallery during the day and nestled up snuggly with the Maine College of Art in downtown Portland. The mood was certainly set for the somewhat intimate line-up of solo performers, with chairs and a few tables set up before the stage, complete with tiny flickering candles floating aimlessly in small containers of water. Believing Dilly Dilly to be the opening act, I was a little taken aback when Glenn Jones was the first to take the stage, worried that somehow we had missed Davidson and her ukulele, but also wary of the possibility that she was forced to perform to the literally four people that were already inside when we arrived, hardly an audience on which to cut one’s solo-teeth. Later, we would find such fears to be unfounded.

Glenn Jones, normally the front man of Cul de Sac, was a modest-looking middle-aged man who announced matter-of-factly that he was going to “play some guitar for a little while” as he positioned his 12-string guitar against his thigh. Though lauded for his electric explorations in Cul de Sac, it was quickly apparent that Jones’ heart is stored in the hollowed-out body of an acoustic guitar. Working with various open tunings, Jones was nothing short of breathtaking with his fret-work and finger-picking. Unadorned, his fingers tickled the strings with a dexterity all but lost in an age of pop-punk down-picking and chords-by-the-book. Opening tune “Freedom Raga” was a spiraling, complex maelstrom of apocalyptic chord progressions, a bold introduction to Jones’ dark Americana. Other songs such as “Sphinx unto Curious Men” also boasted an impressive complexity and sophistication, and Jones proved equally talented when utilizing a slide or after breaking out the ol’ steel guitar. Though 45 minutes is a long time to hear anyone play acoustic guitar, Jones was consistently entertaining and one of the more formidable opening acts I’d ever encountered (though this night was special, as it was more a meeting of equals than a hierarchy of talent or popularity).

Jack Rose took the stage next, further cementing our not-entirely unfounded fears that we had missed Dilly Dilly (though we could have eased our troubled minds by simply mustering some testicular fortitude and asking her, as she was sitting no more than an arm’s length in front of us). Familiar with Pelt and a big fan of Rose’s solo guitar albums, I realized as we waited for his set to begin that I had no idea what Jack Rose looked like. Which of these men bustling about in the dim light was Mr. Rose himself? I must admit I was a little surprised. Jack Rose is like the pirate of neo-acousticism, a tall, lumbering man with a mess of curly hair and a penchant for taking hearty swigs of his Pabst Blue Ribbon while holding the bottle by the very top of the neck and pitching it back in an exaggerated display of swashbuckling intemperance. Where Jones’ compositions built up dense layers of sounds and melodies, Rose emphasized the tunefulness of the old acoustic tradition, his songs far simpler but perhaps a bit more lyrical. Rose played several tunes on six-string acoustic, then switched to lap guitar for a satisfying change of pace. After a few solo songs on the lap guitar, an unannounced duet occurred, with Portland artist Micah Blue Smaldone taking the stage, lending his talents on banjo for one outing and then picking up a literal steel guitar for a second coup. Smaldone then traded seats with Jones, who joined Rose for two songs that allowed the strengths of both artists to augment one another and propel them both somewhere into the night, removed from the tiny stage and the respectable entourage entranced at their feet.

It was a special night for Dilly Dilly, and finally an explanation was offered for why she suddenly possessed the exalted “headlining” position for the show. It was the “unofficial” release party of her new EP, Akidleadivy, which had gone to press earlier the same day. It was a welcome change to hear vocals after almost two hours of solo-guitar madness. Taking the stage with the tiniest of tiny ukuleles, it was soon apparent that the instrument was only to serve as a musical ground for Dilly Dilly to lay her beautiful vocals over. An integral part of the madhouse gang vocals utilized by Cerberus Shoal in recent years, the band still never served as a great platform to exhibit just how nice of a voice Davidson really has.

Beginning her set with the five songs from her EP, Dilly Dilly had everyone in the room enthralled, charming as she was with her red overalls and the cutest of stringed instruments. In addition to wonderful vocal melodies, Dilly Dilly boasted impressive ukulele lines, too, utilizing odd note combinations and at one point a slide to delicious effect. Halfway though the set, Davidson switched to a larger, eight-stringed baritone ukulele, an unusual instrument that produced a very pleasing tone. Finishing up with a few non-EP songs, Micah Blue Smaldone again entered the fray, this time using Rose’s lap guitar to add a little more meat to the delicate skeletons of Dilly Dilly’s last few songs.

By the time Dilly Dilly said her goodnights to a clearly pleased crowd, we had already crossed a few minutes into the new day and had a long ride ahead of us. It had been a great night: The Space had proved to be a great little venue, Glenn Jones and Jack Rose were as virtuosic and entertaining as any high expectations that may have been set, and the surprise of the night, little Dilly Dilly with her Hawaiian import, proved to be the icing on it all. Seldom has a sense of community developed so notably in shows I’ve attended, but on that night, I was proud to be a Mainer, home of such a wonderful little scene.