Last time I saw Joe Henry was June of 1999 at Maxwell's in Hoboken. I remember the night almost perfectly. I drove from my mom's home to the show, stayed for a fantastic set, spoke to Henry briefly, had him sign a napkin and I was off. One of the those very few nights back then when there were no endless pints of beer and booze. Just music.
Henry's music has taken numerous shifts over the years. Originally teaming up with The Jayhawks and other singer-songwriter Americana types, Henry has moved pretty swiftly towards jazz. Where 1992's Short Man's Room is a straightforward songwriter record, 2001's Scar and last year's Blood From Stars sound absolutely nothing like the artist of the early to mid-90s. Literally unrecognizable, except the vocals. In addition to his own records, he's proven to be one of the world's best producers, working with such legends as Solomon Burke, Betty Lavette, John Doe and Allen Toussaint.
Last night was about Blood From Stars,, which meant stand-up bass, sax, drums and keys. His band was absolutely wonderful, especially his drummer who snapped furiously at times, but swept beautifully at others. The Stars songs took on a new life live. After about ten songs, I couldn't contain myself and yelled for "Our Song," one of most touching songs in Henry's deep catalog. He recognized my request with, "I'm not sure I have the posture for that" or something of the sort. But one song later came the words, "I saw Willie Mays...." and that tingle ran down my back. Henry introduced the song by saying that his best songs are written quickly; however, "Our Song" took about six months. Man, was it worth it. Next came a gorgeous take on 1996's "Trampoline" that closed with a full band snap and stop that had the 200 or so in the room roaring. And yes, we got "Civil War."
Joe Henry is one of the major talents of the past 20 years, both on the recording front and the production front. It took me 11 years to land back in a room with him. Hopefully our next visit won't take so long.