The Belfast Empire.
10th October 2019

Jake Clemons is obviously best known as a member of the E-Street Band and a nephew of “The Big Man” Clarence Clemons. A smattering of ‘Born in the USA’ and ‘Wrecking Ball’ T-shirts suggest a sample of the crowd are here because of that Springsteen connection. But Jake has worked hard on a career of his own that has seen the release of two very fine albums and an EP. It’s clear he has watched and learned much from his recent employer, and tonight produces a set high on emotion, musicality diversity and class.

If the first album was a personal dealing with issues of heartbreak, reconciliation, recovery and moving on, the new album is much more focused on wider issues; government, consumerism, participation, and hope for a better future. The mixture of the two provides for a varied and ever-changing soundscape.

The golden sax, sits centre stage, almost as a totem, and left untouched, informing the audience, there is so much more to this man than his blistering dexterity on the instrument.  Jake blasts off the set with guitar songs, particularly the rocking ‘Consumption Town’ which features the magnificently moustached Mark Rashotte, on a searing solo, using the effects pedal as much as the strings. His virtuoso guitar playing will be a feature of the evening.  A storming denouncement of the brutalising effects of domestic violence is the backdrop for the haunting ‘Janine’. One can visualise the increasing violence, as the music quickens and the refrain:

You better get out while you can. This isn’t love

becomes more insistent and urgent. It’s an issue that Jake has championed in the past, and continues to remain a powerful feature of his set.

Next up is the high energy, punkish, ‘Ayuda’, which really gets the crowd bouncing.

I’m lucky enough to have a seat close to the stage he knows exactly what’s he doing, drawing the crowd in. Lessening the distance, makes the communication and his accessibility that bit easier.

When he does pick up the that glorious golden sax, and begins to blow… Wow! It’s an angelic and unworldly sound that swirls around the hall and is met with delighted howls of encouragement each time.

A coruscating version of ‘We The People’ leads into an fiery version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Democracy’ with the aforementioned Marc Rashotte having a ball on guitar.

Jake relates the background to some of his sung tales, some related to his family and his relationship with his father and his famous uncle in particular, and are very affecting. The story behind ‘A Little Bit Sweet’ centres on a girl who gave birth to her daughter exactly a year to the day after she had lost her father. The circle of life and conflict of emotions –

Life is bitter, bitter sweet. But a little bit sweet makes it better.

As the blues guitar of Rab McCullough band, seeped through from the downstairs bar, Jake quipped he could hear the celestial music of her father.

Switching easily now from guitar to keyboard to saxophone, he seems at ease with himself and the band is having a great time. His affability is an instant hit with the crowd, and this extends to the man mixing with the fans, signing and taking photos long after the gig.

The band is given a rest as Jake plays a solo set that is met with respect from the full crowd. Having experienced a few technical difficulties at the beginning of the night, and a slightly delayed start, Jake announces that they are up against the curfew, the somewhat playfully states, it is up to us, how long they can play.

The encore is played without amplification, with the band singing at the edge of the stage with two of the most optimistic songs in his expanding repertoire, ‘Song For Hope’, and the title track of the new album, ‘Eyes on the Horizon’.  The crowd left with a real buzz and a feeling that life, if only for tonight, was a little better.

In a prior interview, Jake relates that Springsteen at the beginning of ‘The Wrecking Ball’ tour gave him a piece of advice about fans and connection.

It’s important that you understand this. You need to keep earning it and just after 40 years of doing this, I’m going on that stage and still earning it.

Jake is no longer just the nephew of Clarence Clemons. Not just the saxophonist in The E-Street Band. On the basis of tonight’s performance, Jake Clemons is a major talent in his own right. He is earning that right, every night on stage.