Hollywood. You come to a live show to get something extra you don’t get by listening to an album. Jack Kovacs gave that something extra to us Saturday night at the Hotel Café, he gave us himself, in words, music and conversation. Billed as an EP release party, Kovac’s appearance Saturday night was less of a party and more of a gathering of friends as he debuted his new EP, “The State Line”. The crowd was tight and intimate at the storied venue, relishing his music and his just darn plain friendliness. In a world in which many performers are uncomfortable talking and seem at times to hide behind their music, Kovacs was not only comfortable conversing but in his wheelhouse. He obviously loves people and we loved him.
Kovacs and his six person band took us on a melodic and introspective look into the mind of a young songwriter just beginning to discover his power. He has learned to inhabit the in-between spaces that separate public musical expression from internal contemplation. The result on an EP is poetic, dreamy, otherworldly; the result on stage is all of that, but also happy and energetic and very real. He took us into dreams and nightmares and made it all sparkle.
Kovacs filled us in on the backstory behind almost every song , but even when he didn’t, when he sings and we know we have been there in the place his lyrics describe. Whether it is the strange and spooky “The Empty House” or the soft and sweet “Jenny”, Kovacs connected with us and reminded us of our own dreams and thoughts and memories. Carried by soft, precisely picked and strummed guitar, he brought back some people’s past and foretold other’s future, all the while keeping the conversation going, musically and otherwise.
He opened up slowly with the mesmerizing title song “The StateLine”, taking a full 5 minutes to transport us on a Colorado road trip, signaling that this night was going to be an emotional as well as musical experience. Then brought us back to reality with a conversation about a girl he proposed to, “Jenny”, and then sang us into a sunny day with her (he was coy about whether or not she said yes). He shifted into a more mysterious vein with “Something Strange”, and then got even more mysterious – calling it “the Halloween part of the show” – with “The Empty House “sung ominously, harmonizing with his female accompanist. For fans who have seen the disturbing video, hearing it live brings back those images and makes you shudder a bit. This must be a band favorite because they seemed to grow with energy and presence when the song started and the show moved to a higher energy level afterward.
He upped the tempo and brought us back to something close to reality with “Mariana Trench” and then encased us in total musical beauty – and a delicately picked banjo – with “Voice that Only Sings”. All this after regaling us with a story about his grandfather’s jacket which he was wearing, strange cults and a pocket-sized Rosetta stone.
Sensing that his audience was thoroughly with him and did not want a break, he moved through “Carolina”, and “Human Nature” with his trademark mesmerizing harmony and intriguing lyrics. By the time he announced he had one more song, we were all quite happy and did not want it to end, but the finale, “Song of the Summer”, was perfect. Starting gently, the music built up; the drumbeat amplified, the base throbbed and the bands voices crescendoed as they sang We are looking for a chance to be young/And listening for a brand new song to be sung/We will be ready for this moment for the rest of our lives. The audience was clapping and tapping and cheering and wanting more. And a few of us thought, he’s right, as we looked back and forward over our lives.
Patrick O’Heffernan, Host, Music FridayLive!
The State Line, Jack Kovacs