The Wiyos and Jackie Greene at the Bearsville Theater

The Wiyos weren’t kidding when they said on their Reverb Nation page that this was going to be the band like you’ve never seen them before. Opening for Jackie Greene and his band at the Bearsville Theater last Friday, The Wiyos were in fact as I had never seen them — and I’ve seen them countless times. A lot of The Wiyos’ new material is going to be on the album they’re currently working on, a song-cycle inspired by The Wizard of Oz. (For a tour they did, which included a stint playing live for a dance company performance, the band was dubbed “The Wiyos of Oz”). I had heard many of the songs before, but not like this. The Wiyos surprised me, longtime fan and follower that I am. They’ve been going in a new direction for a while now, taking traditional-inspired blues and folk style songs and updating them into the 21st century with more contemporary influences, and the band is perfecting this new sound. Not just blues, folk, or swing, The Wiyos have enveloped Hip Hop and Latin influences as well (among others). No matter how many genres or styles the musicians take inspiration from, however, they make the music very much their own.

At Friday’s show, The Wiyos kicked off with a dark instrumental of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” before jumping into the band original, “Ride Those Yellow Lines.” The Wiyos have been a trio for the past few years but recently returned from a tour in the UK with Andy Bean of The Two Man Gentlemen Band. At the Bearsville Theater, however, they were playing as a quintet — sans Andy Bean but with Brain Geltner and Kenny Siegal of the band Johnny Society (Kenny is also a local producer who is recording The Wiyos’ new album, due out sometime later this year). For all of the trio’s capabilities, by virtue of their small number they were somewhat limited, and the addition of Brian and Kenny gives The Wiyos freedom to explore new possibilities.

This was The Wiyos’ first exposure to the Ulster County crowd — or, should I say, the Ulster County crowd’s first exposure to The Wiyos — and the audience loved them. “Momma Had a Baby and its Head Popped Off” was a crowd favorite, and I heard one person remark, “They’re insane!” (in a good way). The Wiyos delivered a frenetic and fun show, and although they only played a short set it was nonetheless tightly packed with song after song of incredible musicianship and artistic expression. The Wiyos won over more than a few hearts and sets of ears, and I think it’s safe to say that the band’s Woodstock debut was a success.

Playing with Jackie Greene for his set were Nathan Dale on guitar, Jeremy Plog on bass, and Zach Bowden on drums. The band plays with slow-burning intensity, setting the listener up for the fire that comes out as the musicians get going. Jackie plays with intimacy and authenticity, not trying to channel anyone — not even himself. His performance had a sense of spontaneity to it, and he was open to the opportunities the crowd and evening provided.

There were two keyboards set up on stage which were not used at all during the first set, but for the second half of the show Jackie came out and played keyboard. Danny Louis joined the band on keyboard as well, and for a while both he and Jackie played side by side until the latter switched back to guitar. The band really got great momentum in the second set, and the songs were longer, more improvised, and one flowed right into the next. The musicians sustained high energy throughout the show, which lasted through midnight and then some, and they were then called back for an encore.

Jackie Greene has said that he hopes his songs may one day speak for themselves independent of him, and that humble attitude and reverence for music shows in his performance. He uses his guitar as his voice just as much as he uses his actual vocals, and there is no heavy showmanship in his performance — just heavy musicianship. Greene’s solos are beautiful and searing, and his playing taps into a rarely seen purity. You don’t always realize when he’s playing just how incredible what you’re witnessing is. Sometimes it needs to sink in, and it’s only after the fact that you think to yourself, “Wow. That was unbelievable.” The band plays with understated power as opposed to flashy showiness, which is admirable. That power is there for you to discover though, it just isn’t pretentious.  I can see where people love to compare Greene to Bob Dylan in regards to both his look (okay, there is definitely a resemblance) and music, but in doing so they cheapen what Jackie is doing. Although comparisons can be useful, whenever you compare a musician to someone else – especially when he or she has a unique sound and makes no effort to emulate anyone — you diminish that person. Jackie Greene may draw from similar influences as Dylan did, but so what? Greene has his own style and personality, and the crowd at Bearsville recognized that and was quite vocal in their admiration for the guy.

Videos of Jackie Greene and his band:

I Don’t Live In A Dream

Nothing Comes From Nothing

New Speedway Boogie


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