(ASBURY PARK, NJ -- AUGUST 4, 2012) -- It's a bit strange, I know, especially for someone who covers live music, but I don't usually go out on the weekends during the summer. The simple act of avoiding Bennies who haven't a clue as to their destination presents something of an obstacle course; you face cars and trucks that pretend you don't exist, New Yorkers who should stick to the subway, and the entire experience turns my normal five-minute jaunt into a stress-inducing fifteen to twenty-minute slice of hell. But the thought of possibly missing the last local performance of Jim Boggia led me to take a break from the book I'm writing and dragged me out to The Saint in Asbury Park on Saturday night.
In case you haven't been following the situation, Boggia, a veteran singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, has been telling his fans that he's giving serious thought about removing underperforming venues from his tour list. Since The Saint was now being singled out for the second straight time, I took notice and heeded his warning. Apparently, I wasn't the only one.
A rather nice crowd turned up for an early Saturday night show. Hitting the stage around 8:30pm, Jim Boggia became the first artist I've seen to "hack" the Saint's new curtain. As Scott Stamper pulled open the curtain, Boggia was nowhere to be found -- all the audience saw was an empty mike stand. Apparently, Jim had been hiding as far to the left as possible. Upon bewildering the crowd for a few moments, he ran across the stage exclaiming, "I love the curtain!"
After opening with "On Your Birthday", he joked, "It's always good to be here at the newly curtained Saint. I won't tell you what I was doing before the curtain opened, but don't go near that part of the stage!"
His next song was the brilliant, "Annie Also Ran" -- a tune that he also brought along to 4 Way Street. Hearing him strum those chords really made me miss that band. They were the very first band I interviewed for my old publication, Upstage Magazine. That band turned me on to the group of Philly-area singer-songwriters and I've followed their solo careers ever since.
It was nice to see Jim in a good mood on stage. He was relaxed, joking, and seemed to really enjoy having a decent crowd in Asbury. He closed out "Annie Also Ran" with a segue into "Something In The Air" by Thunderclap Newman and then took a look out into the audience.
"It's always good when Scott gives you the chance to play The Saint to have more people than you can see from the stage," said Jim. "So, what would you like to hear?"
I'm pretty sure it was Hinge at the soundboard who shouted "NRBQ" but whoever it was got Jim's attention and earned the request. If you're not familiar with the song, "Listening to NRBQ" is a wonderful tale about a music fan's lost romance as he looks back on his life many years later. He's since sold his vinyl collection on eBay and has a wife and a kid, but still recalls the times he drove around in his old Charger (which hauled ass) with his girl listening to NRBQ on the car's 8-track.
Before launching into the request, Jim wanted to make sure one thing was crystal clear. "Ok, before we proceed, can we be clear that this is about a band, not a radio station? And it's not autobiographical!"
Jim went on to showcase tunes from several of his releases including, "To and Fro", "No Way Out", "Bubblegum 45s", "So", "Let Me Believe (Evan's Lament)", and "8 Track". Sadly, those last two tunes really emphasized his disgust with the record industry right now. Before launching into "Let Me Believe" he said, "and I once did"; meanwhile, he opened "8 Track" by saying, "This is a song that is of no relevance anymore, but I had the last laugh because the whole industry died."
In between, he gave us a beautiful cover of Bob Dylan's, "The Girl From North Country" and closed with the amazing, "That's Not Why I Hate New York".
He pretended to stop and come back for an encore, but acknowledged the folly of it in this setting. "It would be great to do an encore, but then we'd have to close the curtain and reopen it..." So, instead he just burst into a tune about John Maynard Keynes, an influential British economist of the 20th century. I'm not sure if this was improv or not, but it was strange nevertheless.
Boggia finished the night by telling a story about Bruce Springsteen and how he tried to explain to a friend of his that people weren't booing him, but saying "Bruuuuuccccee" instead. He tried to get the audience to imagine what they would do if Bruce were to suddenly come through the door behind the stage. Timed perfectly, Hinge came right on through to great applause and chants of "Bruce!" It was hilarious!
Jim then played a very sweet version of "Thunder Road" on the ukulele. You really haven't lived until you hear someone sing, "Well, I got this ukulele and I learned how to make it talk!" Making the experience even more beautiful, Jim ended with a few bars of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", which is just magical on the uke.
It was difficult to judge whether we were watching an artist tired of the game or someone just having fun, but it was a great evening through. Yet, for some reason, with each song, I got the feeling he truly is writing off venues that aren't working for him and simply not worth the aggravation. Looking back at the night at The Saint, I was reminded of John Lennon who once famously said, "I'd like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition."
Before Jim Boggia's set, two great upcoming artists took turns on stage. Brook Girard, a promising young keyboardist, led off with a set of strong and instantly memorable original songs including "Ordinary Girl", "Road Trip", "Wanderlust", and "Trembling". She also presented a fine cover of "All This Time" by Onerepublic.
Michael Dante Summonte followed with another fine set. This was probably the sixth or seventh time I've seen him and it finally occurred to me who he reminds me of. While, I've seen him compared often to Bob Dylan, he actually reminds me more of John Lennon -- specifically the way John sounds on his demo recordings, stripped of the overdubs and studio highlights he always felt the need to hide behind. Michael's songwriting even heads down many of the same dreamy avenues that John used to take us (listen to his song, "Rats" for an example).
Summonte's set featured several brilliant originals including "Grandfather Grandfather" and a cover of "Catch and Release" by Petal Tree, a band he also plays in.
Both Brooke and Michael were the type of artists I used to give ink to in Upstage. One thing I was always proud of was the mag's track record of highlighting artists who had little or no exposure beforehand but certainly deserved it. Sometimes I wish I had more time to continue down that road... maybe someday. But for now check them out at:
Michael Dante Summonte -- http://www.reverbnation.com/michaeldantesummonte
Brook Girard -- http://www.reverbnation.com/brookegirard
and you can learn more about Jim Boggia at http://jimboggia.com
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.