Last Saturday at IOTA was a night for good storytelling and great songwriting. Cranston Dean, The Weathervanes, and Justin Jones gave the crowd over three solid-hours of engaging rock ‘n’ roll.
New Jersey native Dean played first, backed by Shane Luckenbaugh on drums and Ike Gutierrez on bass. Luckenbaugh and Gutierrez were an incredibly tight rhythm section, giving groove to Dean’s acoustic ruminations.
Dean’s between-song banter was as entertaining as his music. He told self-deprecating jokes about New Jersey, and shared personal stories about home and his songs. Especially memorable was when he confessed his love of pork roll sandwiches.
Dean had the musical goods to back up his personality, though, and the set-ending run of “The Good Life,” “Honey Hair,” “Wishful Thinking,” and “Alexandria” was as heartfelt as Dean’s personality was humorous. It’s an engaging combination for a singer-songwriter to possess.
The WeatherVanes held down the middle set with a collection of songs that were pulsing, upbeat, and melodic. Jackson Edwards led the band with weathered, powerful vocals augmented by the band’s stunning harmonies. The ‘Vanes began with the more mellow, plaintive vibe of songs like “Sold,” but by the end had cranked up to eleven with blues-y, countrified rockers like “It’s Up To You,” and “Good Dog.”
Headliner Justin Jones played a solid set-but one thing was made loud and clear: you don’t talk during his performance. Jones started several tunes by standing at the mic, eyes shut, lips parted in anticipation of singing, and then wouldn’t utter a word until the crowd quieted down. At one point, he grabbed his acoustic and jumped from the stage to sing “The Gutter” all around IOTA’s floorspace, lingering especially long among the more obnoxious concert-goers.
The drama made for great entertainment, but didn’t overshadow the solid musical performance from Jones and his well-honed, tight-knit band. They switched effortlessly from the lilting-shuffle of “Long Time” to sing-alongs like “Racine” and rockers like “I Can Feel It.”
Best of all was “All of These Years,” a song about a man falling through ice and trying not to drown. The first few verses began quietly enough, with simple acoustic guitar and a hushed melody. The arrangement then built until it exploded amid thundering drums and roaring guitar. Jones was not only fighting for air, but to keep his song from being drowned out by a talkative crowd.
A performance that passionate would be heard over any din, any day. It’s still reverberating, at least in the minds of those fortunate enough to have paid attention.
Photos by John-Paul Zajackowski: