Jesse Colin Young – Additionally Out of the Darkness Darkness of Lyme Disease

It is such a great story. After a couple solo albums, Jesse Colin Young emerged on the scene in the late ’60s as a key part of The Youngbloods. Their song “Get Together” became an anthem for the times, and has resonated immeasurably over the decades.

C’mon people now
Smile on your brother
Ev’rybody get together
Try to love one another right now

By the 1970s, Young had gone solo and began releasing a series of heartfelt albums that captured the zeitgeist of the singer-songwriter era. After a 1995 fire destroyed his home on the ridgetop over Point Reyes, CA, Young moved to Hawaii. He withdrew from the music business due to an undiagnosed case of Lyme Disease, which went untreated for years. He suffered from anxiety, depression, and other debilitating symptoms. He and his doctor eventually began to get the disease under control, and a couple years ago Young celebrated his son’s graduation from Berklee College of Music. Young was floored by the caliber of his son’s musical compadres, and they all agreed to join Young in building a live show. A gig at SXSW was the catalyst, and now Young is enjoying a welcome return to the road.

In Solana Beach, at the end of the current leg of his tour, the sold out crowd at Belly Up was floored by the band’s excellence and Young’s vigor.

After the show, Young admitted to me his 77 years melt away by many decades when he is performing music on stage. For many years he was certain he’d never be back on tour, but the joy he exudes on stage is palpable. We talked about the first time I saw him on concert, as the opener for the mammoth 1974 summer tour of Santana and Crosby Stills Nash and Young. “I would have liked that tour better if two of my usual band members hadn’t gone out on tour with Van Morrison.”

At the Belly Up last night Young opened the show solo, and offered half a dozen songs. “I’d like to start with just me and my guitar, which is how it all started.” He assayed “Sugar Babe” from his Youngblood years, followed by “Songbird.” He provided some backdrop to the song “Lymelife,” which he wrote to address the myriad folks suffering from the disease, knowingly or otherwise. He said he had likely been bitten by ticks countless times around Point Reyes. A key line of the song:

Lyme life cuts like a dull knife, the shadow left is me.

Young’s voice remains in good form, a bit burred around the edges. His fingerpicking is deft (he also mentioned after the show how the disease had rendered other musicians unable to play).

Once he returned with his full band, the 14 remaining songs took full shape in the hands of his bandmates. Chestnuts like “Ridgetop,” “Before You Came” and “Darkness, Darkness” were tremendous. (The latter was a perfect emotional touchpoint in an episode of “This Is Us”).

Malaysian-born Jennhwan Wong brought an eclectic dexterity to his keyboards, honed by prior gigs with Jim Lauderdale and Pat Metheny (two artists you don’t usually see in the same sentence). Tristan Young (son of Jesse) laid down a solid foundation on his six string bass. Saxophone, long an integral part of Young’s solo work, was ably performed by Jack Sheehan. His tone was excellent, and paired well with Young’s vocal arrangements.

Donnie Hogue’s drumming was understated yet solid. Virginia Alves Garcia hails from Spain, and provided harmony vocals with bandmate Sally Rose Stempler. Guitarist Adam Moore alternately laid back on his electric Gibson and leaned into some crowd-pleasing solos.

Each of the bandmembers graduated within the last three years from Berklee.

Young told me he and the band recorded an album, which has been inexplicably in the can for months. Rather than wait for the album to be released, they dropped the new single “Shape Shifters.” It arrives just in time for the mid-term elections, and the crowd enjoyed it immensely.

A medley of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” and “Mercy Mercy Me” was as surprising as it was effective. As the evening drew to a close, Young offered up lovely versions of “Lightshine” and the inevitable set closer “Get Together.” The audience swayed, and yearned for an encore.

Young called an audible and inserted “Grizzly Bear” before his usual finale of “T-Bone Shuffle.”

It is a great history that Jesse Colin Young delivers.

photos by Brad Auerbach

(full disclosure: I teach an online class at Berklee College of Music for a degree in their business masters program; I found out about the connection to Berklee at the soundcheck).

 

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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