Concert Review: Jeebus Brought the Awesome to Albany

Back around 1995 or so, when I was reviewing music for Metroland, I stumbled across a demo tape called Jed Has Too Much Free Time and, curiosity piqued, went to check out a show by its creator, Long Island native Jed Davis, at the late, lamented Mother Earth Cafe in Albany. What I saw that night was mind-boggling: a charismatic UAlbany kid playing a seemingly-endless stream of incredibly literate, funny, and technically-proficient tunes, occasionally assisted by some other college kids, all of whom seemed to know each other, and Jed. I can’t swear to this, but I also think I caught Davis’ band of the era, Skyscape, at a show at the also late, lamented Bogie’s at the bottom of an otherwise unmemorable bill, with the same enthusiastic troop of UAlbany kids putting the townies to shame with their enthusiasm and commitment to what their seeming musical heroes were working up on stage.

Davis later went on to found one of the greatest live bands to ever emerge from Albany, The Hanslick Rebellion (featuring fellow UAlbany students Mike Keaney, Alex Dubovoy and Mike Kearns), whose Albany-era legacy survived only in a live album recorded at the (once again) late, lamented QE2. Around that same time (I think), Davis put out a CD called We’re All Going to Jail that featured some of the songs I’d heard already, with cleaner, richer arrangements. It earned a spot on my top albums of the year list that year, and after feeling like a stalker of sorts, I finally contacted Jed to interview him for an article I was doing for Metroland on music technology, and later invited his next band, Collider (which also featured Keaney), to play on Sounding Board, the Time Warner Cable music show I hosted. That was the first time that we ever actually met and spoke in person. (In my pre-Sounding Board days, I virtually never, ever, ever identified myself to musicians in the market, since it was easier for me to be a critic when no one knew who I was; once TV blew my anonymity, I stopped reviewing soon thereafter).

Jed left Albany to go and do bunches of other spectacular things, most of them contained in what appears to be a reasonably accurate and up-to-date wikipedia page about him here. Jed has worked with, and impressed, an amazing array of well-known and highly-regarded musical folks over the years, and his latest solo disc, I Am Jed Davis, features a veritable Who’s Who of indie/studio rock n’ roll royalty. The Hanslick Rebellion reformed a few years back, and I took a group of RPI students and friends down to the City to see them perform at CBGB, before it, too, became late and lamented. And that was the last time I’d seen Jed, Mike and Alex (who, I would argue, are easily the best live rock and roll frontline that Albany has ever produced, hands-down, and one of the best I’ve ever seen anywhere, anyhow, anytime), until last night, when they rolled into town to close out the inaugural tour of their latest musical project, Jeebus, and Marcia and I were there to revel in their return.

As if it wasn’t delightful enough to catch the core trio of former Albanians returning to the scene of prior glories, Jeebus also features two other spectacular ingredients: guitar wizard Reeves Gabrels (best known in pop circles for the decade he spent as David Bowie’s primary creative foil) and drummer Matt Johnson (who also works with Rufus and Martha Wainwright, and played with Jeff Buckley, among many, many others). The five-piece band was simply jaw-dropping, playing a collection of newer tunes (“Blood” was a highlight), mixed with some popular Collider-era numbers (“1991” and “Mock Cheer,” the latter of which featured fabulous flow by special guest Jeebus Bryan Thomas), some punked-up Italian folk music (really!), a Hanslick Rebellion classic called “We Wait And We Wait”  (featuring a beautiful solo by Dubovoy), hilarious closer “I Hate All the People At My Party” (which I first heard performed on a Steinway grand piano at the Chapel + Cultural Center, when I ran the operation there), and just a whole giant dose of the passionate, personable goodness that these guys always seem to deliver, spiced up with Gabrels’ amazing theremin-cum-ARP processed guitar sounds and shredtastic tasty solos, and Davis’ excellently muscular keytar sylings.

Bryan Thomas posted some of his always-amazing event photos of the event over at the Hidden City website, here (including some very nice photos of Marcia, which I always appreciate having). You can smell the awesome coming out of your computer when you look at these snaps, and I can feel the waves of regret wafting from your house when you ponder the fact that you weren’t there. I literally don’t feel like I need to see another concert this year, because this one is going to show up at the top of the year-end best list when December 31 rolls around, so why waste time on inferior events for the next four months. Keaney, Dubovoy and Davis have never let me down, and always rocked me hard, in my 15-years of following their musical exploits, and I’m thrilled to have had them back in Albany this week, if only for a day. It kills me that we let them escape down the Hudson River. Again.

2 thoughts on “Concert Review: Jeebus Brought the Awesome to Albany

  1. Hello Eric,
    I am am relatively new album critic writing reviews for a website. It’s strictly volunteer, unpaid; it’s not a job. I recently met an artist I had reviewed after their show. They had invited me to say Hi after the show for which I was on the list, so I did. It was no big deal, but it felt really creepy, almost sickening. I concluded maybe it was best not to talk to these people in person.
    It makes sense that anonymity affords one to write whatever the hell they want without warm, human emotions as a result of facetime and interactions competing with doing the job. But don’t these interactions foster a kind of community, potentially even friendships, that make the job and the world nicer for all parties? Regardless, would you recommend critics “never, ever, ever [identify themselves to musicians in the market, since it is easier to be a critic when no one knows who they are]”?
    Thanks for your opinion and for your work.


    • Hey Charles,

      It was a different time and I was in a different place then. My “day job” was actually with a secretive government agency, so it was sort of preferable for me to compartmentalize and move in the music world with a bit of stealth. (My publisher/editor knew me, of course, but beyond that, I was pretty low key). And, of course, it was also before the world of social media and the web was barely a thing yet (though I was on it from the git-go), so it was MUCH easier to be a critic without having your persona out and loud in public. My other observation at the time in the market where I was working was that there were a small group of folks who were musicians in the market, and critics in the market, and were also involved with booking shows in the market. To me, that made a lot of what they did somewhat suspect . . . whenever they played, they got great reviews (some were, indeed, great . . . but some were NOT), so that made me feel that they were just being sucked up to, so that they would not retaliate by not booking other artists, or offering vengeful reviews of their own. (I saw those things happen, more than once). So I tried to only do one of those things at at time . . . when I started booking and hosting a television show, I stopped writing paid reviews for the newspaper, and when I later began booking a venue, I stopped playing AND reviewing.

      But, all of that being said . . . I was an active member of that music community for nearly 20 years in a variety of capacities, and I did get to know a ton of folks, many of whom I still count as dear friends, so, yes, that sense of community was important and valuable. I’m not sure that my sort of idealized version of the role of the critic would be manageable in this modern world, in terms of how reviews happen and are shared. In the early 1990s, you couldn’t look at my byline, Google “J. Eric Smith,” and find anything you wanted to know about what I looked like, where I lived, where I worked, etc. So it was easier to move about quietly then. There is one other negative factor about engaging with the musicians you review and write: sometimes they are great folks, and it’s a pleasure to meet them. Other times, uhhhh . . . not. And it can sully your appreciation for someone’s work to have them be a loathsome tool in person. I actually wrote a novel that went into depth on these issues (among other things), and I had posted a fragment that covered some of these points on this website a while back. It’s here, if you want more of my musings on the topic:

      Thanks for checking in, and for making the effort to review music . . . I think it’s important, whether done as a volunteer or as a staff member somewhere!!


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