At one point during his Friday night show at The Saint in Asbury Park with Eddie Manion, Joe Grushecky mentioned that between them, they have 60 or 70 years of performing experience.
But they’ve never presented a show quite like this one. And in more than 35 years of concert-going, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, either.
Grushecky, well known to Jersey Shore rock fans for both his occasional collaborations with Bruce Springsteen and his own work, and Manion, a longtime member of Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes who has more recently been touring with Springsteen’s E Street band, were presenting their first show as a guitar-sax-and-vocals duo. That’s a format that’s exceedingly rare: Saxophones usually don’t figure in pop or rock shows until there are lots of other instruments in the lineup. If you see two musicians onstage, you just don’t expect one of them to be playing a horn.
Yet Grushecky and Manion made the format seem perfectly natural, with the saxophone often functioning as the lead guitar in a rock band does, playing off the main melody and creating mini-songs off its own. Maybe musicians stay away from guitar/sax duos because the figure the sax will overpower the guitar, but Manion is a subtle, sensitive player and doesn’t have much interest in showy gestures, so this wasn’t a problem.
The two already have plans to do at least a few more shows this way, too, including the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival in Tappan, N.Y. (the festival is June 27-28, and they are booked to play June 27).
Wisely, they recognized the limitations of the form, and Manion sometimes played keyboards instead of sax (though he would often switch back to sax to take a solo near the end of the song) and Grushecky occasionally added his harmonica to the mix. Manion also sang backing vocals and, on “My Son, My Daughter” (from his 2004 album Follow Through), lead vocals.
Nicky Addeo, who has been singing in Asbury Park since the Doo-Wop Era, added backing vocals to “My Son, My Daughter” and sang falsetto lead on covers of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ “Ooo Baby Baby.” The country duo Williams Honor (Gordon Brown and Reagan Richards) joined Grushecky and Manion for “Daddy’s Arms,” a new song they have written with Grushecky; they and Steve Reilly (one of the show’s opening acts) contributed to a warm cover of the Van Morrison soul ballad “Tupelo Honey” and Grushecky’s own wry “I Still Look Good (for Sixty)”; and Grushecky’s son Johnny played guitar and sang on one of the encores, “Pumping Iron.”
“We’re moving out of our comfort zone,” said Grushecky early on, before singing “When the Crows Go Crazy,” one of many songs in the setlist that he usually does not perform live. Yet you really wouldn’t have known it, as he and Manion made their way through the show with no glitches and some truly transcendent moments, such as “A Fool’s Advice,” which Manion lifted to another level with his raunchy, bluesy licks; Grushecky’s moving song about the Vietnam War, “On the Wall”; and a celebratory, show-closing version of the Jukes classic, “I Don’t Want to Go Home.”