Being the nephew of a true music legend, and in one of the biggest touring bands in existence, may be enough for some people, but luckily Jake Clemons isn’t content with all that, and he brought his solo show to the Belfast Empire last night to show an NI audience just what he’s all about when stepping out of Clarence Clemons – or Bruce Springsteen’s – shadow.
Venues will often claim that only a ‘small’ amount of tickets remain for a show, but trying to squeeze into the Empire on Thursday night proved that the social media spoke the truth, as a huge crowd turned out to see arguably the world’s most famous saxophonist.
The bar – cleverly displaying posters for The Boss – a Springsteen tribute act who will be performing on the same stage at the start of next month – was a buzz of conversations as the stage lights and accompanying smoke machine came on and set lists were laid out, there was a silence as loud as the chatter before it.
And then there he was. Strolling onto the stage, the unmistakeable hair, the all-American denim and that quite wonderful saxophone. Backed by a drummer, bass player, keyboard and guitarist, Jake and his collection of merry men jumped straight into 2017 album Fear & Love‘s opening track, Hold Tight.
As is ever the way, it took a little while to get the sound right, but when the technical whizzkids did their thing, the audience, who had filled each and every chair in the tables on the main floor, all balcony areas and the bar – and those standing – were both receptive and appreciative.
Far from just peddling the new stuff, he then rattled out Overshadowed, a track from 2011 EP It’s On – and the whole set would provide songs from all of his work as a solo artist.
Jake took every opportunity of a break in vocals to throw himself around the stage, giving his guitar some grief and swishing that fine head of hair around as he did so. The crowd were on board from the start, with cries of “love you Jake” a regular feature throughout the night.
It took until the third song of the evening, Janine, for the famous saxophone to get involved, and the audience were almost mesmerised watching him do what we all know him for best. It was, in all honesty, a bit of a thrill seeing that instrument, the one that’s played arguably the most famous sax solo in music (on Springsteen’s Jungleland) up-close and personal. It was an atmospheric number, with him singing away from the mic to create a haunting effect, something he did time and time again, and featured him talking gently over a delicate keyboard part. It’s hard, at that stage, to not compare him to Bruce Springsteen, who employs the technique to such effect, though vocally the two are worlds apart, and if you were searching for a comparison, Jake Clemons is far more David Grey than he is The Boss – but that is in no way meant as an insult.
The following few tracks were an eclectic bunch. From a song that had all the hallmarks of a barndance, to audience-led singalongs, there was certainly something for everyone. However, if there were to be criticisms levelled at the gig as a whole, you could say that, despite seemingly different, everything was also a little samey. There wasn’t necessarily an absolute show-stopper to blow the audience away. Everything was good enough, just not incredible.
Whether telling us about what he believes love is, panicking about the future in our Trump world or discussing how beautiful his wife — who was manning the merch table — is, Jake had plenty to say between songs, and really delighted the crowd when he jumped down from the stage and onto the floor, shaking hands with a lucky few, whose faces were plastered with smiles for the rest of the evening.
Building up to a big finish, the last song again offered the chance of a singalong, as well as treating us all to another blast of that sax. With an album that’s sometimes about the heartache love and relationships hold, Jake Clemons may do well to listen to himself playing his instrument, as that would go a long way to mending many a broken heart. The last song was a tour-de-force, an all-singing, all-dancing, all-foot stomping, all-arm waving, all jumping in the air, all-sax blasting message of hope. And, what more could you want?
Well, an encore. The crowd, who had rushed forward and surrounded the stage to show their appreciation, returned to their seats for two acoustic numbers, before, as it does on the new album, Move On brought the curtain down on proceedings.
It was clear that almost all of the audience in the Empire loved this show. And it’s easy to see why. Jake’s a likeable guy and an excellent musician, playing the guitar, singing, rocking the sax and having a little go on the keyboard too. He’s certainly a “Jake of all trades”. The show, unfortunately, probably wasn’t that will live long in the memory, but is was certainly enjoyable, if not amazing.
Scroll through our photo gallery, by Tim Swart, below: