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Human Touch

By David Greenberger

Greg Brown

The Egg, June 14

Tidy narratives with clean lines and easily discernible conclusions are running amok through our culture. And they can be anathema to artistic endeavors. Greg Brown is a man with a guitar. He is also an artist who dispenses with traditional narratives, filling his songs with slivered glimpses, poetic logic, and a love of musical sounds. His lyrics display a love of allegory, irony, and most of all, emotional resonance. He knows you don’t need the whole list of who, what, where, and when to recognize the beating heart of another human being.

Last Saturday’s 90-minute performance at the Egg was an understated triumph. Eschewing an introduction, Brown ambled onto the stage, guitar in hand, after the lights simply dimmed. Wearing a hat that looked like it’d seen its share of forced labor, a single hoop earring, sunglasses, and a sleeveless shirt, Brown launched into “Preachin’ Blues” by Son House—a perfect way to start the night.

Brown blurs the lines of genres, not because he’s trying to be difficult, but because he’s being himself. He draws from the blues tradition, which placed the sonic possibilities of the voice and an instrument on an even par with the words being sung. He’s not a troubadour delivering the news, but a man crafting songs that gently ask you to reach for them. That’s not to say there’s anything obtuse or dissonant going on, but the full heft of his art yields a varied set of rewards if a listener chooses to really settle into it. The night’s two other covers also were by performers who don’t fit easily into a single category: Mose Allison and Lucinda Williams.

Brown is also undeniably funny. His between-song comments often were elliptical and, when they did come to a clear end, they had either a dadaist surprise or a droll fadeout. The humor in his songs is resilient because it’s not anecdotal; rather it is fueled by poetically simple juxtapositions of ideas and observations. The laughs tend to show up in the midst of otherwise decidedly nonhumorous songs. And, far from sticking out like thorns, they make everything more vivid. Having a bit of a laugh with one another is how we find a level of comfort that allows so much more to happen.

Praise must be offered to whomever is responsible for the decision to have the night be solely Brown’s. There was no opening act in the unenviable position of presenting themselves under the crushing weight of “I know I’m not as important as who you came to see, but just the same I’m going to contort and exaggerate myself so that you may remember some small moment of my set with kindness.” The Swyer Theatre’s character was, for an hour and a half, based completely on the relationship between Greg Brown and his audience. Nothing more needed, ever.


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