Matt Jennings blew through town this last week, opening for Bombino at The Mint, and it was remarkable. Remarkable, I say! I've loved Matt's music and its international flavors for years (He's from Minnesota too. We pretty much all get each other ...), and it's about time you all get to know and love it too.
Let me tell you a cool thing about Matt Jennings. Aside from being a great musician, he is a great friend, and now a collaborator of mine as well. Over the years, I've told him stories of mine, or he's read them, and a while back he started bugging me to write lyrics out of them for songs. I'd never branched out in that direction creatively, so was a little resistant. Then one day I told him a story about one of my dearest friends ever (Darren Sakai, I love you!) who was/is dealing with the dread cancer, and about this healing lake in Hawai'i, where we lived together back in the day. Matt listened, and then simply said, "That should be your first song."
I guess I figured that would be cool, as it wasn't really as much about me doing it, as it was about me doing it for a friend. I wrote it all down, sent it to Matt, and like a week later had a dope song - MAGIC - to send along to my friend, D- Funk. WOW! So we've kept at it, and now we have a whole bunch of special and remarkable songs (I'm switching to "remarkable" for a while - "Amazing" is too over and wrongly used).
Well, the other night was the first time I've ever had a song I wrote (the words to) performed live, and that it was among Matt's other stellar set-list songs, was a true, rare, first-time honor. Matt is one of those virtuoso guys - the ones who you can just suggest something to, and they come back with some genius thing you've never heard and all you can do is smile. Or trip out. This has happened to me time and again with our project (which we're toying with calling The Wholesome Hellraisers!), and it happened to the whole crowd at The Mint the other night.
Bombino has been getting a lot of press as the "Hendrix of the Tuareg People" of late, so the place was sold out, but they maybe didn't know that they were first going to get served with some straight up ROCK, courtesy of Matt Jennings, and his team of Aaron Rosener on drums and Zeke Hall on bass. Not just rock, but rock with worldly flourishes, and stories to tell.
The boys opened up with "Big Blue Whale", a surf-y rock out of a song, and right away I was jolted into knowing that Matt is heavier musically than I remembered. And his guitar will simply transport you, to a plethora of places ... and many of them speak Spanish. "Simplemente En Fuego"! is one of my favorites of Matt's, and also served to define the night. En fuego! "Todavia" and "Todo Tu Corazon" were both gorgeous, as was the beautiful lilt of "I'm Floating" that really makes you feel like you are.
The song I wrote, "Tamarindo Cocodrilo" takes the listener to Costa Rica, and the time I almost got eaten by a crocodile on a surf trip. For real. It was so great to recall sitting at my desk and writing the lyrics and then be out at The Mint and have Matt making the people smile with his extra-talented song story-telling. I was stoked. Stay tuned, as I mentioned, as we have a lot more where this one came from. Fun!
Sometimes it's funny to look at my notes that I scrawl in my book as I'm watching a show. As next to "The Tortoise and The Hare", I wrote "Fresh guitar - fancy! Ripping." "Slow Motion" - "Genre: Metal World Alternative". "God Moves" - I simply underlined "Metal!" 3 times. "Whispering Word - "Dark and heavy". For "Spirit Soldiers" - "Deep as hell". You can glean from these notes that I had a great time, and that Matt Jennings is a force to be reckoned with. He's super talented, a great friend, has challenged me creatively like not many others, and after these shows out West opening for Ozomatli and Bombino, you're going to be hearing a whole lot more from him. You are lucky.
Bombino and his dressed for the desert band mates were RAD. The packed crowd was super reverent and quiet as they listened to his otherworldly, almost religious feeling music. I wouldn't go so far as the Hendrix comparison, and was rather more struck by Bombino's distinctly different singing style.
I didn't get to hear the whole set, but Bombino and Company made quite an impression on everyone there. Those guys don't speak a lick of English, I don't think, so had a translator relay that they "were very happy to be playing here". As we watched and enjoyed the musical experiences of a far-off land via Bombino, we were all likewise very happy to have them playing here.
A special night of special music with special people that I won't soon forget.
*Photos by Paul Gronner from the Matt Jennings Collection, and Me.