City Winery (in Nashville and elsewhere) is set up and sold as a listening room. And, when the calendar is full of acoustic singer/songwriters and small jazz ensembles, that makes absolute sense. But, sometimes, a more emboldened band or artist makes it to the City Winery stage, only to fall prey to the room’s low-key energy and ethos. Such was the case last Friday night with Matthew Perryman Jones. Great in any setting, Jones can folk or rock with equal effectiveness, and at City Winery, he went with mostly the former.
Jones and company eased into the evening with a restrained take on “Echoes of Eden,” a cut from 2006’s Throwing Punches in the Dark. With Jason Goforth providing the hauntiest harmonica ever, Jones let his voice ring right on out. The more recent “Keep It on the Inside” followed and, seems like, set the bar for the punchiest number of the night. Rounding out a trinity of quintessential MPJ goodness was “Can’t Get It Right,” a tune that was featured on ABC’s Nashville and which exemplifies what’s so wonderful about this artist — the moment when his fantastic melodies, contemplative lyrics, soaring voice, and spot-on production all come together to create an astounding three-or-so minutes of pure musical goodness. It’s a moment that happens over and over with this guy.
Jones then moved into more unfamiliar terrain, offering up a selection of never-heard-before new songs that are still finding their footing in the world. Of the three, “Just Can’t Get Enough of You” had the most traction, though the others will likely come along just fine after a bit more time in the oven. To balance out all that newness, Jones invited fellow Ten Out of Tenn-er Katie Herzig out to sing a long-lost duet they wrote together back in 2009, “Where the Road Meets the Sun.” After a trio rendition of “I Can’t Go Back Now,” Jones sent the band away, proclaiming that he wanted “to be alone with my guitar and you.” And, for the next few tunes, he was, even taking a request for “Hole in My Heart.”
The band — consisting of Billy Brimblecom on drums, Molly Parden on backing vocals, Tommy Lee on bass, and Jason Goforth on musical ambiance and dry humor — returned for the closing mix of old and new that included “Wrestling Tigers,” “Satellites,” “O Theo,” “Cold Answer,” “Groundwater,” and “Save You.” For his encore, Jones told a tale of coming to appreciate Tom Waits through a night of drinking Scotch. Then, he went off mic and into the audience to close the night with a quiet offering of Waits’ “Take It with Me,” a suitably gentle way to end a perfectly mellow performance.