Jess Klein@ Whelan’s Upstairs - Sat 3rd March 2018

The Easter Bank Holiday weekend is perhaps not the best time to try and draw an audience out to listen to live music, when so much is planned around taking a trip out of Dublin and/or family time. However, tonight there is a very healthy turnout for Jess Klein, an excellent American artist who has played here a number of times in the past and is always a welcome returnee.

The support act of Beki Hemingway and husband, Randy Kerkman, on guitar open the show and for many in the room this is an introduction to Beki’s superb vocals, confident stage presence and impressive song writing. Beki took her moment to confirm just how talented she is with songs like Two More Hills, My World Is Out There, Not Excused, highlighting her impressive vocal range and tone, coupled with her soulful delivery. A new song, We’re Not Going Anywhere, feels right at home with the older songs and the gentle, Because, written for Randy, together with the lovely Thank You For The Rain are further evidence of an artist comfortable in her creative space and moving forward.

Jess Klein is blessed with musical gifts that become so apparent and immediate in a live setting as she plays a set on solo guitar that runs some 80-odd minutes and showcases her insightful lyrics and superb vocal talent. The audience remain fully concentrated on her performance throughout, despite the fact that the upstairs venue is currently undergoing a make-over to give it a new lease of life and the lack of heat in the room has some reaching for their jackets and coats to remain warm. However, this does not take away to any great extent from the glow of the evening as this consummate performer delivers a set that is balanced between new songs from her upcoming record and old favourites from her extensive back catalogue.

The new material is very strong with Mammal, In Dreams, Kid (a song written to her younger self), A New Thanksgiving Feast (a commentary of our times), For The Girls and Tougher Than I Seem (dedicated to Emma Gonzales, the young student and survivor of the Parkland, Florida, who spoke at the March For Our Lives event recently) really sounding fresh and vibrant.

Her ability to dissect the human clay that holds us together is one that gives her songs an enduring quality. Jess performs a spoken word poem titled Chicken Soup which is a beautiful tribute to her grandmother and the generations of immigrants that went before her in risking life to seek better opportunity elsewhere. It is a moving and poignant piece delivered with utter conviction and passion and also deals with the mindless vandalism and racism that is all too prevalent in the divided United States these recent times.

The set is nicely varied between these serious issues, affairs of the heart and the levity of songs taken from her impressive body of work. The sultry, sexy performance of Soda Water is balanced against the road song spirit of Travellin’ Woman, while Ireland and Riverview are performed with great skill and measure. In a nice touch, Jess performs Shonalee with support act Beki Hemingway on harmony vocal and Randy on second guitar. It is a fine performance that sums up the generosity of this artist and a typical example of the kinship felt in the room. 

The set ends with fan favourite, Little White Dove, before an encore of Beautiful Child brings everything to a very satisfying conclusion, greeted with warm applause from the appreciative audience.

It was a great night to sit back and enjoy the craft of these superb artists, spent among people who were there to listen and enjoy the thrill of live music.  

Review by Paul McGee  Photography by Paul Dolan