Legendary singer/songwriter Eric Andersen made a rare West Coast appearance at Morro Bay’s Coalesce Bookstore on April 20, presenting a sold-out audience with a shimmering vision of the Sixties up to his still-active present, through his elegantly crafted, poetic songs and colorful, ringing guitar work.
In the intimacy of Coalesce’s Garden Chapel, Andersen, dressed in black and wearing a black fedora, played many of the classics that gained him a reputation as an insider favorite in folk/literary circles for his poetry, romanticism, and dramatic guitar and harmonica lines that endeared him to the softer side of the Sixties’ rock revolution.
Evoking a fast-fading era of emulating the French passion poets, of Jack Kerouac, Ferlinghetti and the North Beach “beat” poets, Greenwich Village folkies and enduring Woodstock music scene, Andersen held the artistic high ground with just guitar, harmonica, sometimes keyboard, and songs as captivating as the best modern literature.
Heart-bending love songs, tear-welling soul songs and history-echoing protest songs tumbled from the musical palate of a master scene painter/storyteller. A cascade of Andersen classics — “Violets of Dawn,” “Foghorn,” “Waves of Freedom,” “Close the Door Lightly,” “Is It Really Love at All,” “Florentine,” “Goin’ Gone,” “Rollin’ Home,” “Before Everything Changed,” “Time Run Like a Freight Train,” “Rain Falls Down on Amsterdam” and many more – flooded the room with a depth and style one would have to send out a search party to find in contemporary music today. Equally compelling were his versions of David Whiffen’s “More Often Than Not” and Townes Van Zandt’s “Night Train.” Outstanding were tributes to old friends — “Pearl’s Goodtime Blues,” perhaps the best-ever song salute to Janis Joplin, and “The Busker,” which rekindles his ongoing friendship with genius street-singer/songwriter/producer Joe Flood. No matter how many times he’d sang them before, it even made Andersen smile a little to once more bring back old pals in a song.
Yes, gone are his Dionysian good looks, long since replaced by a rugged durability, but the glint in the eye and gap in his front teeth are still there; his presence as solid and sturdy as his legs, his timekeeping impeccable, and guitar work crisp, precise and resonant. Standing there like a rock playing song after song was truly an impressive display of a true artist, pushing 70, fighting Father Time, still producing and going strong. Only his voice showed the strain of time and the road, but the music and the message were still hauntingly clear. Among the echelon singer/songwriters to emerge from the Sixties, Andersen may be one of the very few of his treasured ilk still touring and plying his trade with an eye toward tomorrow.
Andersen continues to keep the flame burning on a candle he fears is flickering dangerously low, he told The ROCK. As a tribute to his late friend Levon Helm of The Band, who had passed away the day before the show, a subdued Andersen closed the evening with an aching, Helm-like reading of his stirring gem, “Blue River.”
Watching the artistry of Eric Andersen unfold up close at Coalesce was a privilege and a memory reminiscent of experiencing a great artist performing in a small club in Greenwich Village with a handful of people in the room, though this small room was full, and rightfully so. It was hard not to appreciate the polished talent and skill of this amazing performer.
Andersen, now living in Amsterdam, had never been to Morro Bay before. “Can you swim in the water?” he asked, pointing toward the ocean. “In a rubber suit you can,” answered someone from the audience.
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