Bathed in a stream of light in a quiet, dark room at Constellation, the legendary Glenn Jones removed his red-framed glasses and sat with a tilted head, a propped-up foot and a stringed instrument cradled in his lap. His only companions on stage were four guitars and one banjo suspended from a rack, waiting to be made into vehicles of sound from his mystical fingerpicking.
For a Thursday night, it was an especially short set but no less sweet as Boston-based Jones graciously made a point of thanking the audience of 30-something for choosing his performance over the night’s competing shows. A friend in attendance also received a personal thank you for coming on the night of his wedding anniversary. “Don’t leave or anything,” he joked before opening with a new frolicking tune, “Regina,” on the banjo.
Jones’ 2018 album, The Giant Who Ate Himself and Other New Works for 6 and 12 String Guitar, recorded in his home state of New Jersey, is devoid of banjo—something he’s apparently gotten a bit of slack for from fans—but is anchored by the contemplative soul of the acoustic guitar and a touch of slide, which made a lovely appearance. “The Last Passenger Pigeon” has a merry stride and seven minutes of steady strumming, but others like “Everything Ends” take a turn toward the melancholy: it’s a “good news, bad news thing … as far as we know, everything does end.”
Jones is a master at painting swirling landscapes, uprooting memories and transporting trains of thought through his precise guitarwork. He picked up the acoustic guitar at age 14 and over the next 50 years came to embody the bones of American Primitive music. Like his wordless songs, he was a light talker but managed an amusing confession to the Chicago crowd: he forgot all his shirts on this tour and had to stop at a Goodwill in Sturgis, Michigan, to pick up the corduroy jacket he had on. (I’d say it was a solid find.)
After picking an audience-requested banjo number, Jones closed the night, fittingly, with a final song dedicated to John Fahey, his close friend and mentor whom The Giant Who Ate Himself album title is an homage to.
“Thank you for choosing me as your soup du jour tonight.” But perhaps we should be the ones thanking Jones for treating us to a warm batch of songs. It was his birthday week, after all.
This concert review was written and photographed by guest author Jessica Nikolich.