Another great, crazy, loose night with Jonny Rosch, where the band members, setlist, start time and jokes always remain unpredictable. This night, at the Triad Theatre, tucked high above a Turkish restaurant on West 72 Street, and only two blocks from the Dakota, at one time the residence of other famous musicians such as Judy Garland, John & Yoko Ono, Leonard Bernstein, Rosemary Clooney and Roberta Flack, Rosch’s friends were Tony Garnier (Dylan, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, etc., etc.) on bass, Joe Bonadio (Sting, Avril Lavigne, Chris Botti, Chuck Mangione, etc., etc.) and Peter Calo (Carly Simon, more etcs.) on guitar.
The show’s opener put newcomers on notice: familiar tunes as you’ve never heard them before. A totally different take on Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” breathed new life into a song that many love, whether they’ll admit it or not. Fuller and rawer than the original, Rosch’s vocals, keyboard and melodica infused new meaning into the song. That said, throughout the evening solo turns by the other three musicians proved to be thrilling, especially Peter Calo’s southern-rock turns, which would have done Duane Allman proud, and Bonadio and Garnier’s duets, which were perfection.
Rosch, like Joe Cocker and very few others, doesn’t cover songs so much as reinvent them. Originality, humor and great musicianship are the only constants in Rosch’s playbook, which is probably why he’s able to consistently put together topnotch players for his quirky shows. Rosch’s many “& Friends” are used to playing the biggest venues in the world, where the term Music Business means business, and I can imagine that cutting loose with serious musicians who don’t take the business seriously must be not only be a relief, but a reminder of why they got into this in the first place. Constant onstage banter reinforces my conviction. Rosch: “Hey, Joe, you’re going to appreciate this…” Bonadio: “I doubt it, but go ahead. Give it a shot.” Which, by the way was a lead in to one of my all-time favorite songs, Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Back Home,” performed with a wide-open passion and a rawness Steve Winwood didn’t deliver, then tempered by Calo’s sweet acoustic guitar.
“Here’s a song Joe Bonadio and I wrote together on the bus on the way over,” Rosch said, slyly referencing Tony’s Garnier’s tardy arrival because he’d taken the wrong bus—although with a Rosch show, tardiness is a relative term, as he admitted later, saying, “Tony Garnier went too far, but I’m known for going too far”—before he started up with James & Bobby Purify’s 1966 hit “I’m Your Puppet.”
Friends, both in music and outside it, fill a large percentage of the seats, and at the Triad, a number of Rosch’s high school friends attended. During one of Rosch’s regular numbers, Phil Collins’ “That’s All,” he shouted out to his friends, and made some jokes. After a couple of minutes, drummer Bonadio called out “We’re losing the sun.” “You’re just the drummer, you don’t have to know anything,” Rosch shot back, laughing. “Yeah,” Bonadio said dryly, “People always dance to the lyrics.”
Two highlights among many were Procul Harum’s “A Salty Dog,” orchestral in feel, with particularly wonderful solos by Calo and Bonadio, seguing into “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” to end the set.
Even though I could see musicians champing at the bit to get onstage with this crowd, I had to leave around midnight. As I passed Peter Calo at the bar, he asked, “Are you leaving?” I told him I had to write up the show. “All right, then, get to work!”