Jeffreys is one of rock's most underrated songwriter/performers, a fact many of his more well-known peers realize and readily acknowledge. In his college days, he swapped lyrics and poetry in upstate pubs with fellow New York City street singer and Syracuse student Lou Reed, later of Velvet Underground and "Walk on the Wild Side" fame. Whenever he plays the New York city area, Bruce Springsteen often pulls Jeffreys up on stage for a rousing rendition of Jefferys' "Wild in the Streets" or an up-off-your-ass cover of that Question ? and the Mysterians garage rock classic "96 Tears," a tune which Jeffrey has made a staple of his own shows. Noted rock critic Robert Christagau has linked Springsteen, Reed, and Jeffreys as a trio of superb city singer/songwriters "who need a drummer" to pound home their message and calls the multi-racial Jeffreys a deliverer of "Bigotry 101 from a teacher with tenure".
Jeffreys opens his Hamilton show with "Coney Island Winter". Because of the intimate nature of the small-club performance, he will be able to spend much of the night interacting with the crowd on an extremely personal level. He begins immediately after the last notes of the opening song. "This is a great place to play. We're having so much fun up here singing to you right wingers," he says with a hearty laugh. "And backstage, you can actually sleep back there. (Pointing to each of the 4 members of his tight backup group) "If you had been there a little while ago, you might have thought these musicians were dead".
But Jeffreys, now 70, and his band - bassist Brian Stanley, drummer Tom Curiano, and brothers Charley and Adam Roth on guitar and keyboards - are anything but dead. Tonight is the 3rd night on their tour supporting Jeffreys' just-released effort Truth Serum and they are ready to showcase songs off of that effort.
But, of course, attention must also be paid to Jeffreys' earlier catalog. That's one of the reasons for the night's 2nd song - "35 Millimeters Dreams". During the ending, Jeffreys repeatedly vamped a line that you can be sure wasn't part of the original. "I used to be 35," he sings over and over..
The 3rd offering is the title track from the Truth Serum. After the song, Jeffreys, who has always commented on the socio/political scene in his lyrics, delivered this impromptu response. "Now I know this is DC, but if you think they (the conservative members of Congress who a few days after Jefferys' performance plunged the country into a government shutdown ) represent me, you are absolutely insane. It's easy to write these days. We come to Washington and they throw things out for you and you just rush back and add a new verse. I looked at that Ted Cruz and I didn't know what the f... to think. But let me get back to the music here".
And so it went for the next 90 minutes, Jeffreys, often delivering a double message - 1st in his lyrics and then in his personalized stage remarks. "I'm on the 90-year-plan," Jeffreys told the crowd. "I'm coming up on 71 and there's no question in my mind that 89 is do-able".
During one of the night's most poignant segments, Jeffreys talked at length (like his buddy Springsteen he is a masterful on-stage storyteller) about his father working 2 jobs, 16 hours a day so a young Jeffreys could leave Brooklyn and attend Syracuse University. During that time, he studied in Italy (Jeffreys still speaks fluent Italian, a skill he demonstrated from the stage). "I was very, very different from everybody else in my neighborhood. Here I was - a guy from Brooklyn - living in Florence. This paved the way for me. It gave me wings. And rarely have I been afraid to try new things. And it was all because this man worked 2 jobs. And he wasn't even my (biological) father".
All too quickly, the show was over. Of course, there was the encore. In fact, there were two. The 1st was "96 Tears". That was followed by "Hail, Hail Rock n' Roll" which contains these lines, which although written years ago, seem to perfectly capture Jeffreys today.
Blame it on you, blame it on me
Now let's the race that won't let's get on history
Pain in my heart won't let me be
Take it from me but don't you take away my liberty
Father of coal, mother of pearl
Never too black to blush to pick up a white girl
The color of you, the color of me
You can't judge a man by looking at the marque
Hail hail rock 'n' roll, comes from r 'n' b and soul
Don't leave me standing in the cold
I used to fake 'I never grow old'
Hail hail rock 'n' roll, don't leave me standing on the bleak
Don't leave me stranded on the street
I see the light, I feel the heat
So let's do what Jeffreys suggests - let's all hail, hail rock and roll. Let's also hail Jeffreys and Springsteen and Reed and all the others who are still making relevant, life-affirming, life-changing music. May they all complete their own 90-year-plans and may we all, or at least as many as fate will allow, make it with them. For no matter how old you are, it's always good to be able to see the light and feel the heat.
And for those of you who weren't as fortunate as the 200 of us in the Hamilton to see and hear Jeffreys' performance, here is a brief glimpse in sight and sound.
Backstage before the performance
Signing and Greeting Fans After the Show