Photos by Patricia Steur and Frank Beacham
An honors graduate of the “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere” school, Jonny Rosch’s tendency to start later than advertised has begun to register even with him, so when the band took the stage for the first time, he greeted the audience with, “Welcome to the second set.” The 8 o’clock show at the intimate Triad Theatre (aka Stage 72) kicked off somewhere south of 9:30, but what a kick it was.
Jonny Rosch and Friends is a very large crew of accomplished musicians—primarily sidemen, session guys and a few retirees—but only five or ten turn up for any given gig (it’s planned that way, folks). This night we heard guitarist Oz Noy (Chris Botti, Harry Belafonte, Cyndi Lauper, Clay Aiken, Toni Braxton, Phoebe Snow, Warren Hayes, The Allman Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Don Was, Nelly Furtado, Phillip Phillips, Andy Grammer, Jennifer Hudson, Don Henley, Patti Austin, Take 6, Josh Groban, Phil Ramone, Paul Shaffer, Steven Tyler, Sting, Steve Perry, Allison Krauss Foreigner, Average White Band, Christopher Cross), drummer Josh Dion (Edgar Winter, Bob James, John Medeski, Pat Martino, Steve Kimock, Tony Nels Cline, etc.) and bassist Tony Garnier (Bob Dylan, (Dylan’s longtime musical director and bassist), Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Loudon Wainwright III, Asleep at the Wheel, Robert Gordon, Marshall Crenshaw, Manhattan Transfer, Brian Setzer, David Johansen/Buster Poindexter, etc.), behind Rosch, and together the quartet proved they could raise the roof until 1 AM.
Long before that witching hour, however, the City that Never Sleeps began complaining about the noise. Actually, the lady next door began complaining about the noise. She called the club, griping that the music was too loud. Dear readers, we are one half block from Broadway, one flight up from screaming police and fire sirens, garbage collection, trucks air-braking and random honking, not to mention the three morons having a major argument on the street, and the music’s too loud? Well, that’s what she said.
Early on, Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell In Love” blew us away, with Rosch’s full-throated blue-eyed soul vocals already giving the crowd its money’s worth. For most of the evening, Rosch had rigged up a Wheel of Fortune that, frankly, recalled an umbrella that had run afoul of a windy day, but he asked audience members to spin it to decide a song category that these band members—who had never before played together or rehearsed—would play next. The dial landed on “Are You Funkin’ With Me?” and Rosch counted down “Seven! Nine! Five! Twelve!” to start the Eva Cassidy/James Cotton staple, “Ain’t Doin’ Too Bad.” Funking it up to the max, they treated us to an extraordinary drum solo by Josh Dion, a skins tour de force which to these ears sounded like it was more footwork than sticks; Dion was followed by another solo by bassist Tony Garnier, who, head down and focused, always brings it home.
Another message from the lady next door prompted another spin, which landed on the “That’s Not How I Remembered It” category, and Rosch pulled out the Stones. A soft, matter-of-fact-ballad in his hands, his “Backstreet Girl” version drove home the lyrics’ heartlessness. The poignancy became almost unbearable, and I’m not the only one who shivered from its cold cruelty. Someone once told me the opposite of love is not hate—those are both strong emotions—the opposite of love is indifference, and that night I heard the quintessential anti-love song.
That night was Bob Dylan’s 75th birthday, and, with apologies to Garnier for “making him do the same songs he’s been doing for 22 years,” Rosch launched into a few Dylan numbers, the first of which, “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” got a successful makeover as a Chicago blues number, with Oz Noy contributing solos throughout the medley that would have made Mike Bloomfield proud.
Today, there’s an emphasis on doing “original” songs, but I don’t get it. Write away, songwriters, but why is it worthier to perform a so-so song you wrote yourself than to reinvent a great song? I’d rather listen to Joe Cocker interpret the Beatles, Aretha Franklin improve Carole King or anybody do Jimmy Webb than Justin Bieber sing Justin Bieber, thank you. (Aside: at Folk Alliance, I attended a panel where one of the panelists said, “Everyone should be able to record their own songs.” You’d have thought I was suggesting ethnic cleansing when I chimed in, “But not everyone should record their own songs.”)
If you want to spend an evening relearning songs you thought you knew, spend a night with Jonny Rosch and a few of his Friends. He introduced one tune by saying, “Here’s another original song…meaning a song originally done by somebody else.” Rosch’s arrangements and delivery of time-honored hits and deep cuts stand with any of the greats, and the foursome’s epic rendition of “Like A Rolling Stone” drove home that fact. Fifty years of listening to Bob Dylan’s own version numbs the ears a bit, but JR&F’s heroic version could have been the finale of a stadium concert, it was that big. Noy’s blistering bluesy solos, Dion’s exuberant percussion, Garnier’s amazing spontaneity in the face of so much practice and Rosch’s keyboards and vocals joined together to refresh the song’s power and brilliance.
Jonny Rosch and Friends delivers remarkable music magnificently, at full throttle. If the lady next door doesn’t get it, it’s her loss. Screw ’er.
If you missed the fun, don’t worry! They’ll hit the stage again tonight, 5/31 at 8pm. NO cover charge and NO drink minimum… for more info on the show head here.