James Maddock shows are always packed with exuberant fans, but it’s clear that nobody has more fun than Maddock himself. His obvious delight in performing for his fans is undoubtedly one reason for the packed houses, along with the resonant songs he writes and sings, his elegant guitar skills, and the first-class musicians that join him onstage. On this occasion, they ran through 16 songs from Maddock’s catalogue, starting with the low-key “Sunrise on Avenue C,” introduced by a dreamy piano and violin duet by Maddock’s longtime keyboard player Oli Rockberger and surprise guest Alan Grubner. When the sing-along refrain faded away, the rest of the band – bassist and comic foil Drew Mortali, Jason Darling on guitar and Aaron Johnston on drums – joined them onstage for the slow-rocking proposition “Chance.”
Darling’s wailing guitar artfully set up “Step Into the Water,” a dark commentary on modern life, and Maddock unleashed some hard-edged vocals to match his intensity. The lovely and tragic “Fragile” was another showcase for Grubner’s violin, which along with Rockberger’s piano made the sad songs more poignant and the joyous ones nearly levitate the room. Behind the drums, Johnston’s skillful touch added weight and feeling, particularly on “Beautiful Now,” Maddock’s affectionate salute to women feeling their age. In a bit of theater familiar to fans, Mortali was encouraged to repeat the vocal bridge to “When the Sun’s Out,” cementing an enthusiastic audience connection. The finale, the charmingly upbeat “Positive,” got the audience on their feet and sent them off riding a true contact high.
– Kay Cordtz