Gray areas: A week spent jamming in Warren
Warren served up two very different recipes of “jam” in the last week.
E.U. featuring Sugar Bear brought some Washington, D.C., go-go music to the Mahoning Valley on Saturday, while Marcus King and his band explored multiple genres on Monday at Packard Music Hall.
E.U. is best known for the dance hit “Da Butt,” but founder and bass player Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott and the seven other singers and musicians mixed in plenty of soul and funk during its set at the Warren Community Amphitheatre as part of the African American Achievers Association Festival at Courthouse Square.
The band barely paused to take a breath as one song slid into another, and the rhythm section kept the beat going. A version of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” was a pleasant surprise, and “Shake Your Thang,” the reworking of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” that E.U. recorded in the ’80s with Salt-N-Pepa, was a standout.
Most of the crowd was content to sit in amphitheater bowl and bob their heads to the beat, but Sugar Bear was able to coax more and more dancers to the lawn in front of the stage as the show continued.
The weather was perfect for an outdoor concert, and Saturday (as opposed to Sunday) was a great day in downtown Warren. In addition to E.U., we took a walk around the festival downtown, popped into the art shows at Art on Park and Noodlefun, grabbed a beer and heard Demos Papadimas playing at Modern Methods in a fundraising event for Rock 4 Reason and ate my first gyro of the summer from Vlahos. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The jam recipe King delivered Monday certainly included some southern soul, along with plenty of rock, blues and country.
King got his start as a young blues phenom. At 27, he no longer qualifies as a prodigy, but he has impressive instrumental chops, and his voice expressive enough that he could keep making a living in music without a guitar strapped over his shoulder.
His seven-piece band included three horn players, and the group went full jam band on the tempo-shifting odyssey “Fraudulent Waffle” and found extended grooves to work in several of the songs during the 105-minute show. At times, the songs meandered and lost focus, and there was a point where “Fraudulent Waffle” nearly jumped the rails entirely, but that’s part of the risk and most of the fun when a band is in the moment and taking chances instead of going through the motions.
With three albums as the Marcus King Band and two as a solo artist (both produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys) , King has shown off his ability as a songwriter, but he also has a knack for picking interesting songs to cover.
Some choices Monday were obvious — any picker who wants to show off his fretwork can’t do much better than the Allman Brothers Band’s “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” — but he also covered songs like Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross,” Delaney & Bonnie’s “Comin’ Home,” the Marshall Tucker Band’s “This Ol’ Cowboy” and the country pop hit “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.”
I couldn’t have told you who recorded “Good Time Charlie” until I looked it up (Danny O’Keefe) and it’s been decades since I heard the original, but it’s a song that apparently was etched into my brain during childhood and I found myself singing along effortlessly as he played it. That’s a sign of a great song.
Introducing “This Ol’ Cowboy,” King said his wife, Briley Hussey, told him it was her favorite song he sang on the first night that they met. Hussey joined King on stage to sing on a few songs, including a brand new one that he didn’t announce the title for and a show-closing rendition of “Goodbye Carolina.”
Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.