Jake Clemons was at the O2 Academy in Liverpool and Getintothis’ Matthew Eland was there to find out if Clemons was boss, without the boss.
Nepotism is fine, as long as you keep it in the family. At least that’s how the joke goes. But after six years playing sax for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, you wouldn’t begrudge Jake Clemons having a crack at establishing a solo career.
Jake is, of course, the nephew of Clarence, who was in Springsteen‘s band from 1972 until he died in 2011. But having a famous relative can be a blessing and a curse when you’re trying to strike out on your own. It’s not until the second half of debut solo album Fear & Love that we get a sniff of sax; anyone expecting Kamasi Washington – style cosmic jazz is in for a shock.
Indeed, it’s odd to find such a talented musician – Jake is no slouch on the keyboard either – playing it so safe. Much of his recorded output is so middle of the road as to make us question the use of that phrase as a valid metaphor, given that driving down the middle of the road implies some kind of risk.
It’s disconcerting, therefore, that Clemons’ first track of the night should be album opener Hold Tight. “Hold tight, she’s a hurricane” repeated ad infinitum doesn’t exactly scream of the lyrical nuance The Boss is renowned for (but we’re willing to eat our words if the subject matter turns out to be a literal bastard hurricane instead of a strong-willed lady), and the four-on-the-floor verse-chorus-verse doesn’t bode well for what we’d expected to be an in-your-face rock show. Things get properly dicey when he messes up the words during a cover of Democracy by Leonard Cohen, but luckily he gets the song back on track.
Things look up when the sax eventually comes out four songs in, and you wonder why this isn’t the key focus of all his music. A familial millstone perhaps, something to rail against…which would be an open-and-shut conclusion, except Clemons is genuinely good as a frontman. Towards the end of the set, he takes to the crowd with his cordless mic, posing for selfies and letting beaming punters contribute backing vocals.
The most electrifying moment occurs when he builds up guitar and vocals with his loop pedal, before laying over some sax. It’s the only moment when he flies without a safety net and adds an element of risk to his undeniably virtuosic musicianship. It even makes up for him getting overly earnest during a couple of solo acoustic numbers.
Liverpool! We’re here and ready to take things up a notch!!! Let’s make some rock and roll! @O2AcademyLpool
— Jake Clemons (@jakeclemons) August 29, 2018
He finishes with a double header of With a Little Help from My Friends and Good Lovin, and his engaging antics show that he has picked up a tip or two about showmanship from Bruce. Hopefully next time he’ll dispense with the tasteful balladeering and forget about the family legacy; with the shackles off, Jake Clemons has potential.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Ian Flanders