Jimmy Gnecco is not the sort of singer/songwriter who can have that title applied to him with any bit of disparaging condescension. His hauntingly powerful alt-rock outfit, Ours, has maintained a fierce cult following even after their major-label success of nearly 15 years ago; his vocal and instrumentation range is far wider than most modern bands achieve during their entire career; to find him taking residence in such a tiny establishment as the Hotel Utah Saloon, whose show occupancy barely breaks 100 at its peak, is nothing short of astonishing. For a second year, however, the New Jersey native returned to this small corner of San Francisco for a nearly 3-hour-long set of solo tunes, elegant tales, and collaborations with musicians and fans alike onstage; past the unexpectedly long duration, this was a mesmerizing night of gorgeous tunes, not for a moment marred by the cold that the singer had provided as a caveat before the evening began.
Perhaps to build up the enthusiasm before the main event– as Gnecco’s songs are usually much slower and dramatic in pace and manner — ubiquitously-talented guitarist Nick Perri and his set of curated bandmates kicked off the night with a roaring inferno of speedy blues-rock and punkish jams. Singer Josh Bartholomew lent both delicate crooning and furious wails to pair magnificently with Perri’s blazingly-fast fretwork; both completely stole the tiny stage as they hurtled about it, shaking the wooden walls of the Utah with every new number they blared out. Even the sudden death of bassist Deanna Passarella’s amp didn’t slow the group down — they kept their song going until the end, and within moments managed to run the bass straight into the house sound system, tearing off into another rocker with barely a moment’s pause. Perri moves, plays, and even sings with all the passion and grace of the most seasoned of guitar stars, giving possibly Slash and Page runs for their money; while definitely a sharp contrast to Gnecco’s slow-burn set, they were a great way to jumpstart the night and kick up the energy.
Within moments of gracing the stage, Gnecco immediately kicked off his set with the much-loved “Here Is The Light” from Ours’ major-label debut Distored Lullabies, and the momentum he possessed remained constant for nearly all of the 2.5+ hours he stayed onstage. He crafted the song selection of his set based on personal preference, setting mood and tone, and even requests from the audience; pieces from Ours records, Gnecco’s solo effort, and even a Roy Orbison cover, were all present throughout the evening. Though he had cautioned the crowd about an oncoming sore throat that was likely to deteriorate his performance, he still managed to effortlessly swing between his reedy, brittle screams and the delicate Jeff Buckley-like falsettos (with his rich natural baritone in between) and showed no signs of faltering as he did so. More than anything, he looked overjoyed to be in a place where he was surrounded by smiling, enraptured faces, who hung on every word and sung along to every lyric that they knew.
Gnecco was not to be the solo possessor of the spotlight for the rest of the evening, of course; within a few songs, he brought up Bartholomew to join him on “Ran Away To Tell The World” and “The Worst Things Beautiful”, before then calling upon Perri for a dark, thundering performance of “Murder” which pushed Gnecco to the peak of his vocal performance. In the middle of the set, the excited singer nervously announced that he needed to run to the restroom, and a zealous fan leapt at the offer to play in his stead; any of the crowd’s cynicism vanished when said fan crooned and strummed out a gorgeous, soulful cover of “Wicked Game”, which even got some wowed stares and praise from Gnecco himself. For a final burst of manic energy near the end of the set, Gnecco brought on his backup bassist and Nick Perri Group drummer John Bach to improvise their rhythm backup on a performance of “The Heart”, and Perri rejoined them to balance out the mix, which flew to magnificent heights by the final notes of the song.
For the hardcore Ours fans in the audience, this was a night that was unlikely to be rivaled in its breadth and intimacy; the open friendliness of Gnecco, the brilliance of his voice and playing, and the scope of work performed was such that two entire Ours concerts could have been packed into Gnecco’s set, and still would be remarkably different and special in their own way. It was also quite the treat to see such a great response to such a passionate following; Gnecco knew that he was there entirely on the support of his fans, and played and spoke to them with the casual grace of one with gifts that he was bursting to share. Here’s hoping that he’ll soon reach a speedy recovery from the illness he remarked about, and that he and Ours return to the Bay Area before another year passes.
- Here Is The Light
- I’m A Monster
- Light On The Grave
- Red Colored Stars
- Ran Away To Tell The World (w/John Bartholomew)
- The Worst Things Beautiful (w/John Bartholomew)
- Murder (w/John Bartholomew and Nick Perri)
- Been Down (w/John Bartholomew and Nick Perri)
- Fallen Flower
- Ring The Bell (solo piano)
- I Heard You Singing (solo piano)
- Crying (Roy Orbison cover) (w/John Bartholomew)
- Sometimes (w/John Bartholomew and Nick Perri)
- Fall Into My Hands
- Bring You Home
- The Heart (w/John Bach and Nick Perri)
- Medication (w/John Bartholomew)
- Fallen Souls
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2015 Jonathan Pirro
Nick Perri Group: