Show Review: Tyrone Wells with Mike Annuzzi and Joe Brooks at The Independent, 3/29/2012

by Stacy Scales on March 31, 2012

Tyrone Wells: unique and delicious

At first glance, he might just be a very large, very bald man with a tiny guitar and a voice that mesmerizes. Upon closer inspection, though, Tyrone Wells is just tall, talented, and playing a ukulele. Well, at least until he starts yodeling, anyway…if it’s all a bit to take in for the first time, I understand. It’s a unique (and thoroughly enjoyable) experience, and I can still remember the first time I witnessed it myself, several years ago. Since then, I’ve fallen for albums like Remain and EP Metal & Wood, as well as the brand new release, Where We Meet, which brought him to The Independent this Thursday, alongside local opening act Mike Annuzzi and English singer/songwriter Joe Brooks.

A short and sweet opening set by local boy Mike Annuzzi began with “Please Come Back to Me,” and then Mike marveled at how he’d had to travel many, many miles just to come play a show back home. After a quick hello and welcome to friends, family, and newcomers alike, he began the next song by calling himself a singer/songwriter that writes a lot of love songs, but explaining that sometimes someone’s “doing you wrong.” The song that followed, “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” turned out to be my favorite of his set. When he’d finished, he revealed that it was an exciting time for him: only a few days before the start of the tour, his first album was released. As he said, “it’s paradise!” I thought that was sweet, but later realized he meant it literally: Paradise is Mike’s album title. During the next song, “You Got Me,” Mike said “sing it, girl!” to someone in the front who obviously knew and enjoyed the tune enough to be singing along. He gushed, “I love San Francisco!” and then gave a shout to the sound guy, who he called his “bunk buddy” in the RV they’d used to drive around on tour. “Head to toe,” he added for clarity.

After the super sweet and a little bit sappy “Let Me Show You Tonight,” Mike said he felt like “stompin’ my feet, ya’ll.” We were invited, should we feel like stomping our feet or clapping our hands, to take our chance. The song that followed, “Come on (Dance with Me),” featured a built in crowd singalong with lyrics like “repeat after me…repeat after me…” Mike then prepared to wrap up his brief set, admitting he felt honored to play San Francisco, and asking the crowd to come see him after the show and say hello. He lamented that though he’d been born and raised in the Bay Area, his song is getting airplay on Southern California radio instead, asking us to help him get it on San Francisco radio as well. The title track to his album, “Paradise,” was his final song of the evening.

Opener and local boy Mike Annuzzi

Not long after Mike left the stage, Joe Brooks and his bandmates appeared. Honestly, the first thing I noticed was how incredibly young both Joe and his drummer Matt both seemed to be. (I was later assured they were both, at the very least, over 21.) Even if he’d have turned out to be 15, it wouldn’t have mattered, as it turns out. I had no idea what to expect, so as I often do, I decided not to expect very much at all, and as such was a bit blown away by how much I liked Joe’s sound. (And to be fair, he sings with all the conviction of someone middle-aged, anyway.) His first song, “I Find the Light in You,” immediately made it clear that he was, well…no average Joe. He has a really great tone, and throughout his set, his harmony with Matt and key player Clinton was impeccable. “Till My Heart Stops Beating” came next, and amazingly, even with a title (and lyrics, obviously) like that, it wasn’t overly cheesy, which is always a relief, especially when discovering a new artist. The adorable “Someday” followed, with romantic lyrics that managed to stay miles away from the dreaded cliches while still being sweet and sincere.

Joe took a moment then to stretch, saying it felt good to be in San Francisco. It wasn’t until that moment that I heard his English accent. (Although it’s almost a non sequitur, so I apologize. It just somehow feels relevant because without giving you this bit of information, I can’t paint you a completely accurate portrait.) He told us how they’d driven from our “ugly sister Sacramento,” and then chastised himself, saying, “that’s rude.” During the next song, “World at Our Feet,” there was a bit of reggae in the breakdown, which I thought Joe and the boys somehow managed to pull off quite nicely. He admitted after they were finished that they’re “still working out the ending.” Apparently, sometimes it lands smoothly, sometimes it crash lands. On this particular night, it managed to be “a little bit of grass, a little bit of tarmac…” which was enough for us.

A brief medley of Jessie J songs were up next (“Do it Like a Dude” and “Price Tag”), and when Joe said that it was “nice and toasty” inside, he got a taste of our fair city: a man randomly shouted out from near the back of the room, “take off your pants!” Joe said, “whatever that means…” and then, “REALLY?! I just understood what you said…” the crowd laughed the awkward hilarity away as Joe went on to tell us that he’d decided, “you can’t really choose your battles or your victories, you take them where they come.” This was meant as a way to explain that the next song had gone to #1 in South Korea and #2 in North Korea, where he joked “the regime won’t let it go to the top…Kim Jong Ill has been #1 for years with a cover of Wet Wet Wet.” Then he laughed at himself, wondering aloud, “where the fuck am I going with this?” and finally a note to self: “don’t do stand-up!” The song with the charming if long-winded intro was “Holes Inside.”

After sweating under the lights made Joe’s new hair product run into his eyes, he told us we merely had another ten minutes until Tyrone Wells would grace us with his “rather tall presence,” adding that he was “magical in many ways,” or so he’d recently heard. His next song was “Superman,” and a stand out song among a truly great set. Before he began what he said was a brand new song, Joe warned us that he’d only ever had three harmonica lessons, asking us “please do not take the piss when I attempt the harmonica solo,” and explaining further that his main job was to get the audience ready for Mr. Wells, but that he loves to get everybody dancing.

Apparently, the tour’s previous night had been a bit of a rough one, as Joe said that everyone in Sacramento had been seated, and rather reluctantly got off their feet, as though they were “a little bit afraid.” Joe commented on the freedom San Francisco people had, but added that he’d love to get us moving a little: “swing a few arms…” The new song, featuring a sweet harmonica solo he needn’t have worried about, was called “Toronto,” and it was his last of the night.

There's no way around it: Joe Brooks captivated me.

When Tyrone and the band took their places onstage to the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” I was quickly a bit taken aback by the level of cheering that welcomed him. Not that he doesn’t deserve it, but just that I often think of him as one of those sort of “underground” indie artists whose music I often get to be responsible for turning friends onto. Obviously, even if that’s the case, it wasn’t so at the Independent. These were Tyrone Wells-savvy people, and we were ready for whatever the night would bring. It began with “Running Around in My Dreams,” followed by “Remain,” after which Tyrone asked if it was too early to “break out the big guns?” Seeing that it might not be, he traded his guitar with Mike (Annuzzi, who was doubling as Ty’s guitar tech for the evening) in favor of the aforementioned ukulele for “Run Away with Me,” which has a great little island feel to it – so much so, in fact, that Tyrone wandered into a bit of Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” in a spot-on impression, followed by a little “No Woman No Cry,” quickly ad-libbing, “everything’s gonna be alright…San Francisco on a Thursday night,” which the crowd happily cheered for.

“A Way Out” from the new record came next, and then Tyrone invited Joe Brooks back to the stage to sing Jason Reeves’ part on the song he cowrote with Tyrone, “Give Me One Reason.” Tyrone explained that though Joe is the opening act here in the States, soon they’ll head to the UK, where Joe will headline and Tyrone will open. Joe mentioned something about the wine he’d been enjoying since he left the stage. Tyrone asked where it was from. “Napa? Santa Barbara?” Joe said that he didn’t know, but that it was red. “Napa,” Tyrone concluded, and then went on to introduce their duet, saying that it was “for any of you out there who maybe recently went through a breakup and realized that you’re gonna be okay.” When they’d finished, Joe quickly fist-bumped Tyrone and then disappeared as quickly as he’d materialized. The girls near the front started screaming for “SEA BREEZE!!!” but Tyrone politely ignored their requests, promising, “we’ll get to that. Don’t worry.”

Instead, he explained that when he was about thirteen, he took a boys’ trip with his dad to Portland. He grew up the youngest of five, he explained, the only boy, in Spokane, WA. On that trip, dad had told him that Grandma Agnes used to yodel, and she’d taught him how as well. Now it’s your turn to learn, dad had continued. Because fans know this, Tyrone insisted, he can’t usually leave the stage without a quick yodel. (To be fair, I’ll admit that this is one of my favorite parts of the show, but I’ve never seen him try to leave the stage without yodeling, either…) He sang the only yodel song he knows, swearing “I can tell in San Francisco some of you want me to bust out.” Seriously, it’s a unique and quirky thing about him, but it really is cool, and his voice sounds pretty fantastic while he’s singing in this strange style that’s now nearly a lost art. (Or is that just in the US?) He insisted to the “fellas,” that if they had any love problems, they should learn to yodel, saying it’s a “love potion number nine.”

The requests from girls at the front continued, but Tyrone again politely explained that he had a set list. “We’ll play songs, we’ll get to yours. Just relax, and enjoy,” he teased with a smile. “Carolina Blues” came next, admittedly Tyrone’s most personal song. It’s about his Grandpa Claude and his dad, and it was beautiful. After, he began to talk about the “scary time in our nation,” the “tough couple of years for our country,” reminding the crowd that anyone who had a roof over his/her head or a car was among the top 3% of wealth in the world, and encouraged us to “lift up your head and your heart; you’re doing alright.” The next song, another from the new album, was “You Still Love Me,” after which came a brief introduction to members of the band, and then “Baby Don’t You Change,” during the first breakdown of which Tyrone wanted to talk to the ladies, explaining about the problem of entertainment propaganda in our nation that, while aimed at men, “gets to the heart of many girls.” The message that’s sent out, he continued, is that beauty is what you see on magazines, and that’s how you should look. “Truth is,” Tyrone said, “you’ll never be more beautiful than when you’re truly comfortable with who you are.” He went on to add that if a girl liked a guy who didn’t seem to like her, she should go find one who does. “We can do better loving our ladies and letting them know,” he concluded, and then went back to the song. During a second breakdown, there was a bad ass, barehanded acoustic drum solo by the talented Mark.

Before beginning new song “You’re the One,” Tyrone told the crowd how every once in a while people will come up to him and say that they want to use one of his songs for their special moments, especially weddings. “This is a new song, but please consider it…” he joked. After “Where We Meet” came my personal favorite, “Sink or Swim,” which had a great majority of us rocking out and singing along. When it was over, Tyrone said he wanted to take us back (“SEA BREEZE!!!” came the request from the girls in the front yet again). “Further back,” he insisted. “Back to neon…” Back to when you might’ve been in the back seat of your parents’ car in a car seat… you might have had your bangs piled up high… And with that, he began a truly fantastic medley of 80s classics: Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up,” C&C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now” (where he deserves a special shout out for his unexpected and brilliant Freedom impression), and finally, Michael Jackson’s “Beat it.” He joked with the crowd that his favorite part is when the crowd’s singing along, “beat it… beat it… nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah” and he realizes how few of them actually know the words, reminding us, “it’s ‘no one wants to be defeated!'”

Up next was another oldie of his own, “Wondering Where You Are,” followed by another new one with advice: for those whose posture in life is white-knuckled, holding on too tight instead of relaxed and trying to let things go, “Freedom” says, “when you let it go, what they say is true, when you let it go, it’ll come right back to you.” During the chorus toward the end, band members held cue cards to the audience to organize a singalong without any danger of us forgetting the words we were to sing. Though it made me laugh, I really thought it was a genius move on their part if they wanted it to turn out just so. It did, of course. When the song concluded, they abruptly left the stage, but as the oft-promised “Sea Breeze” hadn’t yet been sung, and no one had even pretended to say a “thank you and good night,” no one was fooled by this apparent “fake out.” All the same, the girls started chanting, “Tyrone, Tyrone!” and about a minute later, they took their places anew.

After new song “Head Over Heels,” Tyrone paused to thank the audience for singing along with the newest tunes, explaining that he used to be signed to Universal but that he’s now gone indie, and that the new album made the top 10 on iTunes, and was #1 among the singer/songwriter albums. Naturally, he’s very proud of the new record, and asked us to please check it out if we’d not yet done so but liked the older ones. Then, he said, it was time to “give the people what they want,” and finally it was time for obvious crowd favorite “Sea Breeze.” Next came “More,” which slowed down and segued into “When All is Said and Done,” which never fails to impress me when heard live. Here’s why: I don’t know what everyone else is hearing when they listen to this song, but I can hear nothing but a man singing to his god about the moment he looks forward to finally meeting his maker face to face. It seems quite personal, and frankly quite ballsy to sing to a room full of strangers, and I’ve heard him do it more than once. Moreover, he sings this part a cappella and even without a microphone. Some girl made the mistake of letting a loud “WOOOOO!!!” loose and you could hear the word fall to the floor in shame. This is an intensely reverent moment that should be treated with respect, and when the crowd cheered just a bit in appreciation, Tyrone held his hand up for continued quiet. When he’d finished, I was even more blown away by the level of the cheers, and then he went back into “More” to wrap up the evening.

There’s something really unique and cool about Tyrone: he always sort of keeps me guessing. But whatever it is he throws at me, I always end up liking. As I admitted to him before I left for the evening, his new album and I haven’t yet gotten very acquainted with one another, but I’m still loving Remain as much as when it first came out. The truth is, there isn’t a single song I skip on that album, and I think many a music lover will agree that that’s a sign of a great record. Along those same lines, the mark of a truly great musician is when he’s even better live than he is on CD, and that’s always the case with Tyrone Wells. This week at the Independent was no exception.

Stacy Scales

California native. Word nerd. Music lover. Linguaphile. Amateur foodie. Basketball junkie. Travel enthusiast. Future therapist.

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