Jonathan Wilson may just be the most talented musician you haven’t heard of yet—at least that was the case for this observer; maybe you’re actually on top of your game and thus incredulously shaking your head at my ignorance right now. Regardless, Wilson and his band came to play Tuesday night at Brighton Music Hall, and this observer counts himself lucky to have been in attendance.
Psychedelic rock would be a valid, albeit vague, descriptor of Wilson’s canon. As is the case with so many bands today, Wilson’s music exists within a fluctuating stasis that revolves around a central core, but unabashedly wanders onto its fringe. At times the sound of the North Carolina native resembled the feel-good jam psychadelia of The Grateful Dead, and other times it bordered on the dream psychadelia of Pink Floyd. There was often a Steely Dan lounge-y vibe suffused throughout the mix—emanating mostly from the Hammond vigorously enlivened by Wilson’s keyboardist—and the not-so-infrequent use of guitar slides and vocal harmonies evoked CSNY, and as it so happens that’s no coincidence.
After a quick read through the laundry list of luminaries that are featured on Wilson’s most recent album, Fanfare—which includes both Graham Nash and David Crosby—this observer was even more surprised to have never previously encountered Jonathan Wilson. A subsequent discovery that Wilson has both toured with Wilco and Tom Petty and produced albums for Dawes and Father John Misty (previously of Fleet Foxes) made it all the more astounding. Throughout the show, Wilson and Co. regularly vacillated between the textures and effects responsible for inciting all of the comparisons to these first-class musicians. Both of Wilson’s albums, Gentle Spirit and Fanfare, have been critically lauded—hence his ability to attract such prominent collaborators—and he showcased the best of both in his performance.
The most impressive stretch of the set came when Wilson’s band consecutively played “Fazon,” “Desert Raven” and “Dear Friend.” “Desert Raven” features the unforgettable riff, carefree vocals and instrumental textures that could easily induce likenesses to America (the band, not the country); it even shares the desert setting so commonly used in America's oeuvre (see “A Horse With No Name”). Uncut Magazine’s 2011 “New Artist of the Year” played each song with a casual elegance (witnessing an artist rock minute-long guitar solos casually and elegantly is a beautiful thing) in a polished performance that lasted nearly two hours. Vocally, a stoic Wilson bears semblance to the breathy Elliot Smith, but it doesn’t take too many songs to realize there are some pliant and powerful pipes hidden behind the stolid façade, just waiting for the right moment in which to emerge.
The band played the epic “Valley of the Silver Moon” to end the pre-encore set before returning to stage for two more. And then after a quick goodbye and a promise to return, they left the stage as casually as they had entered, long hair wafting in their wakes, good music still ringing in the air. Check 'em out.