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Jerry Joseph Acoustic Duo in Missoula

December 31, 2013

photo by Matt Riley

Jerry Joseph Acoustic Duo

Top Hat

Missoula, MT

December 19

For the better part of three decades, Jerry Joseph has developed a small but devoted following with his workingman's approach to gigging and gruff, personal lyricism. His songs have found homes in various interpretations through his early work with reggae-rock band Little Women, fangs-bared power trio The Jackmormons, and all-star outfit Stockholm Syndrome, and many have become setlist staples for jam band kings Widespread Panic. But it's when Joseph breaks it down to brass tacks, such as on his latest, eponymous, acoustic LP, that the real strength and passion of his craft often shines brightest, and that's the side he and Jackmormons percussionist Steve Drizos brought to The Top Hat in Missoula, MT on his latest visit.

The show was opened by a short acoustic set by Idaho-born singer/songwriter Jeff Crosby, accompanied by guitarist/harmony singer Patrick Kenny. Crosby is the first artist aside from Joseph to have an album released by Joseph’s Cosmo Sex School Records, and has already earned a reputation in Missoula with his festival-circuit jam band Equaleyes and his rootsy rock outfit The Refugees. This stripped-down approach was a fresh experience for many ears in the audience, and he proved his mettle on songs like the recent Refugees single “Heart Like a Loaded Gun” with strong pipes, keen songwriting and quick guitar work, a preview of what would reoccur later in Joseph's set.

Drizos and Joseph took the stage unassumingly, Joseph lingering on the right side of the stage, feeling his way around the hypnotic opening chords of The Jackmormons’“Ship” on his guitar, black hoodie pulled over his head. A crowd quickly gathered in front of the stage, and judging by the number of people that sang along throughout the night, Joseph had a home here. While many audience members could be heard wishing for a full Jackmormons experience prior to the set, the drums-and-guitar pairing delivered a surprisingly full-bodied ferocity that rendered the absence of a bass guitar or other accompaniment almost unnoticeable. Drizos for his part avoided much flash, but delivered a well-rooted percussive performance that served the songs, and the conversational nature between the two musicians and their instruments revealed a relationship forged into a perfect pairing through their years together in the Jackmormons.

Instead of flair, the duo leaned on dynamic control to evolve their setlist. The slow, steady pace of “War At The End Of The World” gave way to a surprising cover of Modest Mouse's “Missed the Boat” before bringing it back down for “Cochise.” Joseph's smoldering intensity caught a flame halfway through the set with the gutsy stomp of “ The Jump”before keeping up with the end-times theme by segueing in to U2's “Until The End Of The World.” The mellow “Muscle” elicited a number of diehard cheers, and then Joseph began a slow build for a long-running suite of songs including hints of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and boiling over into the hard-rocking “Road to Damascus.”

Though the setlist would look short on paper, the duo had been onstage for nearly two hours before they finally said their first goodbyes. They emerged for an encore with opener Crosby in tow on lead guitar, launching in to“Speedwater.”Joseph stepped out to the edge of the stage mid-song and led the audience in a singalong of The Beatles “Let it Be” before returning to the microphone. The three musicians left the stage but came back at the calling of the crowd for “Henry” (with a crowd-pleasing opening line about Missoula), during which Crosby and Joseph traded leads before leaving the stage once more, a final closer to a show equal parts energetic and intimate.

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