Unless you are a hard core folk music fan, the prospect of an 18 song solo acoustic guitar set can seem more daunting than fun.
Jeffrey Gaines delivered that exact type of set at his Opera House concert on Saturday.
The Harrisburg resident has been making music and touring for over 20 years. While a bad acoustic concert can lead to frantic watch-checking; the skills Gaines has gained on the road were proven by the fact that on Saturday evening he made the time fly by.
Gaines took the stage, sat on a stool, and without introduction launched into a plaintive ballad of two lovers who buckle under the weight of commitment. The song began as a gently picked melody. By the time Gaines reached the chorus, the guitar had built a head of steam, chords coming in rigid down strokes.
But it was not all heavy-handed drama. For as much as he is a folk singer, Gaines is also a rock and roller. For as much as he is introspective he is also entertaining.
He said that he had a friend, a little girl around age 5, named Lillian, and that she loved his songs and wanted to come up on stage and sing with him. Escorted by her mother, Lillian walked up to a tiny microphone and grabbed a pair of maracas.
Jeffrey and Lillian sang the two songs together.
After Lillian left, Gaines launched into a number of love songs. These songs, which comprised the first half of the show, were quiet and introspective. For the most part they did not quite achieve the peaks of the opening song. The subject of these songs was love as challenge, burden, fantasy and medicine; the present was shown as a debt taken out by the past.
These songs, displaying the singer-songwriter side of Gaines, evoked the memory of Jeff Buckley.
When Gaines stood from his chair the second half of the show began. These songs were harder, judgmental in their lyrics and less melodic. It was easy to see Gaines as the leader of a rock band. He filled the stage, shook and swayed, carried by the force of songs calling to mind Elvis Costello, who Gaines sometimes sounds like. The highlight of this part of the show was a thirty second silent solo. "Are you with me?" he cried to the audience, and bent listening over the guitar. "Can you hear that? It's the expression of free imagination."
What puts Gaines a cut above the rest is the way his songs form a cohesive whole. They are in conversation, complimenting and contradicting one another. The message of one song, played early, about the need to develop self-love before loving another person is complicated by a later song, 'Price of Passion,' which details how love for another threatens to destroy the very dignity created by self-love.
The only request I would make of Jeffrey Gaines is that he bring his electric guitar next time he comes to the Opera House. His acoustic solos gave a hint of his ability to rock, but a hint is not enough.
He needs to put those chops on full display.