John Sebastian, World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 8/10/2017; With a Wealth of Experience and Music, The Lovin' Spoonful Singer & Songwriter Tells It Like It Was
Photo: The Acoustic Centre
The last time I saw John Sebastian perform was in the Woodstock movie, documenting that most momentous live concert of August 1969. Which is not to say that Sebastian sat on his hands for the last forty-eight years. It's just that I had not crossed paths with his tour schedule, so when I saw him booked at Philadelphia's World Cafe Live on August 10th, I jumped at the chance to see him play.
A quick check online revealed lots of gray hair and a voice that while somewhat older, was still easily recognizable and his spirit seemed intact.
On record, Sebastian's latest is an acoustic duet with David Grisman from 2007. The album, Satisfied, covered mostly acoustic blues, and as such it contributed three numbers to Sebastian's set. In fact, he opened the show with a superb version of Mississippi John Hurt's "I'm Satisfied". I associate that song primarily with Taj Mahal, but it does seem to be a mainstay of the acoustic blues repertoire.
Sebastian was every bit as engaging as a storyteller as you might think if you heard any of his 1960s performances, maybe even more so in that there are now many more miles on the proverbial odometer. As someone who grew up in the thick of the blues and folk scene of New York's Greenwich Village, he has a wealth of experience and many stories to tell. He punctuates his stories by playing the songs that he's talking about. The songs all sound great but the crowd reaction grows strongest as he delves into his Lovin' Spoonful history. The Spoonful songs that he played were definitely highlights in that he could not help but be playing someone's favorite song. For myself, even though I like them all, I've always felt something special about "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" dating back to when it was classing up the AM airways in 1965. And it still sounds terrific even now.
Watch "You Didn't Have To Be So Nice"
I think that the stories actually occupied more of the concert than the songs, even though he played a generous nineteen tunes. As the show seemed to be ending, someone yelled a request which he obliged and played a crowd-pleasing rendition of his TV theme song and #1 hit, "Welcome Back."
Even though he covered a lot of territory during his time on stage, he never got to talk about Woodstock. I would love to hear his take. Other than "Welcome Back", he didn't get into what he's been up to since the sixties. Every now and then I see his name on a songwriting credit such as "Face of Appalachia", which he wrote with Lowell George. That oft-covered tune sounded especially good on the first Valerie Carter album Just A Stone's Throw Away.
As much as Sebastian shared during the show, I have a feeling that he only scratched the surface of his life in music. At one point, he talked about dating a girl named Maria and taking her to see a performance by old timey folk and blues singer Geoff Muldaur, and how Geoff took a liking to her; they married and eventually divorced. After that, the girl came back to Sebastian. I wonder how many in the audience realized that he was talking about singer Maria Muldaur ("Midnight At the Oasis", 1973). I'm sure that there is much more where that came from. The untold stories make for a good reason to return.
Setlist: Click linked tracks to watch
01. I'm Satisfied (Mississippi John Hurt)
02. Just Don't Stop 'Till You're All Worn Out (Jimmy Vivino, John Sebastian)
03. Shining Moon (Lightnin' Hopkins)
04. Do You Believe In Magic (John Sebastian)
05. You Didn't Have to Be So Nice (Steve Boone, John Sebastian)
06. Jug Band Music (John Sebastian)
07. Prison Wall Blues (Gus Cannon)
08. Younger Girl (John Sebastian)
09. Strings of Your Heart (Mississippi John Hurt)
11. Geoff Muldaur tune
12. Passing Fantasy (Gary Nicholson, John Sebastian)
13. My Creole Belle (Mississippi John Hurt)
14. Sittin Here Lovin' You (Dr. John)
15. St. Louis Tickle (Dave Van Ronk)
16. Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind (John Sebastian)
17. Nashville Cats (John Sebastian)
18. Daydream (John Sebastian)
19. Welcome Back (John Sebastian)
The linked videos are in full 1080p HD; no cell phones were used (or harmed) in the making of these videos. Many thanks to World Cafe Live for the excellent sound and lighting.
John Sebastian's Website