LIVE: Steve Forbert and the New Renditions @ Club Helsinki 7/18/19
I saw Steve Forbert, for the first time, several years ago at Caffe Lena as a solo act. If memory serves me, he was only accompanied by a little stompbox to keep the rhythm, so I was curious to see how the sound would change with a full accompaniment of the New Renditions around him. Of course, a friend of ours, George Naha, playing lead guitar only added to the anticipation.
Immediately apparent, Forbert still has that welcoming, whisperingly raspy voice that makes him seem more like a storyteller sitting around a fire, rather than the frontman standing above the audience on a stage. Next, you realize that as good as the Lena show sounded, having four other musicians sharing the stage allowed Forbert to fully explore the great range of styles he performs rather than the normal expectations of a singer/songwriter the audience may have. It also took some of the spotlight, and the ensuing pressure off of him for periods of time while Naha, and multi-instrumentalist, Jesse Bardwell (mandolin, acoustic guitar, and some percussion) took their solos, Naha getting some loud ovations for some of his particularly inspired fireworks, building audience anticipation before handing it back to Forbert.
Fittingly, Forbert started the evening off with “Thinkin” from his first album Alive On Arrival. In fact, the entire evening was a retrospective of his 40 plus year career. Also off that album was “Going Down To Laurel”, “Midsummer Night’s Toast” and “What Kinda Guy.” He also picked liberally from his second album, Jack Rabbit Slim, with “Romeo’s Tune”, “Complications” and “I’m In Love With You.” Forbert’s songs range from folk to country (Jimmy Rogers’ “Any Old Time”), to blues (“Oh Yesterday”, which morphed into “Take Me To The River), to rock (“It Was Sure Better Back Then”). The band even threw in a little surf instrumental.
There was a couple of times when Forbert turned to drummer Caleb Estey to help him pick up the beat, but for the most part, he and upright bassist Todd Lanka kept the tempo right on the margin. I later had my suspicions confirmed while speaking to Naha after the show. He mentioned how much fun he was having playing with Forbert as it was all very interesting, especially since they start out with a set list, but frequently make detours keeping the band on its toes.
All in all, it was a wonderful night of music in a very nice venue. The nearly sold out audience was not just there for drinks and food, but were intensely listening, even singing along at times. At the end of the evening, the audience showed their appreciation for the night’s entertainment with a standing ovation. Forbert also made himself available for pictures and autographs of his albums and book “Big City Cat: My Life In Folk-Rock.”