Nick Jaina/Jeremiah Nelson; August 14, 2010; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
I seldom book bands I haven’t seen, since I like to know what I am getting into. But when the best patron of the House of Righteous Music is so enthusiastic about a band that he gives you a copy of their CD, and gives the band your contact information, you have to give it a shot. Well, I did at least. Usually Nick Jaina travels with a crowd, a big band that includes all kinds of strings and horns, and is seldom the same line-up twice. For this short Midwest tour he was traveling light, just a violin and a viola accompanied him for the premier of his ballet in a small town in Michigan (apparently how that all came about is a long story) and the handful of dates following. I haven’t seen the big band, but if the trio is any indication, they must be amazing.
The blond and handsome Jaina is a serious type, his sense of humor very dry, his conversation smart, and his smiles fleeting. But when he does flash one of those hard to come by grins you feel like you’ve been let in on a secret. His string section was much less solemn, pretty viola player Amanda Lawrence had a glow about her that lit up the room, while adorable violin player Nathan Langston was Jaina’s photo opposite. Dark, floppy hair framed an angelic face with a mischievous smirk, he was a bundle of energy and likely to jump up and play his pizzicato part bouncing around the microphone. Whether it was because of the band he had with him or the mood Jaina was in, the set tended toward the melancholy and I recognized only a few of the songs. Bill had done his research and the songs he requested were some of their more obscure. I waited the whole set patiently for the song that had ultimately convinced me to book the band. Problem was, I didn’t know the name of it since the only copy I had of Narrow Way was the copy Bill had made me.
Jaina had already said “thank you, good night,” when I asked if he could play one more since he hadn’t done my favorite song. He asked what and I had to admit I didn’t know when Bill volunteered “Cobblestone.” Turns out that the real name is “Winding Sheet,” but that was enough to allow him to figure out the tune I was looking for. It also turns out that it’s a piano song, which totally hadn’t occurred to me. Thankfully he was game for trying it on guitar, Nathan enthusiastically joined in, and it was the best song of the night.
It’s always fun to pair one of my local favorites with the touring band, and Jeremiah Nelson was a good choice. Their styles weren’t exactly the same, but they blended well. Even more importantly, there was a lot of mutual respect going on. The best moment may have been as Jaina and band settled in to begin their set. Glancing around the room, Nathan pointed at Jeremiah with his bow, “That was a sick set, man. You were amazing.” Of course, I always think that about Jeremiah. He’s written some of the smartest, catchiest songs I’ve heard, and I never get tired of them no matter how many times I hear them at Mickey’s. Of course, the difference is that there he’s competing with the constant chatter of the beer drinking patrons, and here it is silent. I wish he would hurry up and finish his CD so I can hear amazing songs like “Skin to Touch” and “It’s Hard to Love on Bourbon Street” more than once a week. His set in the basement was terrific, and it was nice to actually be able to hear him.