You know an unplugged show is going well when the acoustic guitar-wielding performers keep rising out of their chairs, to be able to sing a little more forcefully, or strum their guitars with a little more emphasis, or share a mic with another performer, or just move around a little. And that’s what happened, repeatedly, during Saturday night’s Light of Day concert at the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, which featured Garland Jeffreys, Willie Nile, James Maddock, Steve Conte and Joe D’Urso. These are singer-songwriters, but also rock ‘n’ rollers at heart, and despite the unplugged format, this show was electrifying from start to finish.
It was the first Light of Day concert to take place in northern New Jersey in the charity concert series’ 15-year history, and a sort of prelude to the festival itself, which takes place throughout this week, mostly in Asbury Park. (For a complete schedule, click here). All five of the performers are in the lineup of at least one more Light of Day concert this week; most will be at several. And all are donating their services, to help Light of Day in its mission to raise money for Parkinson’s disease research.
All the performers also seemed to know each other’s material well, and were able to help each other out with backing vocals, guitar leads and percussion throughout the night. Guitarist Justin Jordan and pianist Antonio Zirilli also helped fill out the sound. Sometimes one-time-only group shows like this one can have a haphazard feel, but this one felt very coherent.
Nile set the tone of the show early, spitting out lines like “God is great, but you’re not!” in the angry “Holy War,” directed at terrorists who kill in the name of God. Jeffreys’ evocative “Coney Island Winter” was also an early highlight, and inspired a thread to the evening: Maddock, who performed next, added the phrase “Coney Island winter” to his “Once There Was a Boy.” Soon everyone else was doing to same to their own songs.
In general, Nile, Jeffreys and Conte performed harder-edged material — with Jeffreys even jumping up and down for emphasis on “35 Millimeter Dreams” — and Maddock and D’Urso opted for gentler stuff. D’Urso mentioned that he had played a loud set the night before — at Light of Day’s first South Jersey show ever, at Big Shots Bar and Grill in Burlington — and was going to go in the other direction this night.
And though Jeffreys was in a feisty mood — “I’m gonna be 72 (in July), and if you think it’s gonna stop me, no way,” he asserted at one point — he provided some of the show’s most reflective moments as well, particularly on his rapturous love letter to his hometown, “New York Skyline.”
Nile, Jeffreys, Maddock and D’Urso are probably well known to most people who are Outpost regulars or Light of Day supporters, or both, but Conte was, perhaps, a bit of a wild card. He’s a New Jersey native, and he’s been around for a while, though usually as a member of bands such as Crown Jewels, Company of Wolves and even the reunited New York Dolls. But he fit right in at this show, with smart, upbeat songs like “OK DJ” (the No. 2 finisher in the 2014 edition of the Coolest Song in the World contest, voted on by listeners of Steven Van Zandt’s Underground Garage radio program) and “The Truth Ain’t Pretty.”
The evening ended the only way it could: with all the performers (plus Light of Day organizers Tony Pallagrosi and Rob Dye) singing a celebratory version of “Light of Day” itself.
Here’s a video of Nile performing his “One Guitar” at the show. For other videos and photos, visit the Outpost’s Facebook page.