Words by: Dianna Hank
Scott Metzger :: 02.07-09.18 :: New York City
With appearances at Carnegie Hall, Blue Note and the Prospect Park Bandshell as well as three sold-out nights at Brooklyn Bowl all on the books in the next six months, there’s no sign of guitarist Scott Metzger slowing down anytime soon. Just last week, Metzger played three gigs in three different arrangements over the course of three consecutive nights. As a working musician in the New York City music scene for the last 20 years, this type of work schedule isn’t that uncommon for him. What is uncommon, however, is kicking off those three nights with a sold-out, solo show at New York’s iconic Joe’s Pub.
“The solo gig requires a completely unique headspace to get into,” Metzger told me on Saturday afternoon following the run. “I liked the flow of the week. The order laid out perfectly.”
Following the sold-out solo show on Wednesday, Thursday night saw Metzger take part in yet another sold-out show — “a night of improvisation” with the debut performance from an experimental group called Infinite Jets. Joining Metzger at New York’s swanky jazz club Nublu was fellow JRAD band mate, drummer Joe Russo, WOLF! band mate, bassist Jon Shaw and fellow guitarist and musical director of The Capitol Theatre’s production of The Complete Last Waltz, guitarist Sam Cohen.
The last date on #MetzgerTour was a Friday night gig with Metzger’s own instrumental guitar trio WOLF! at Garcia’s at The Capitol Theatre. This performance followed a rocking set from Dave Dreiwitz’s hard rock group, Crescent Moon, and truly ended the run on a high note.
Some of the most amazing things about this three-night run of shows (aside from Metzger’s stamina, considering he’d been under the weather all week) were both the diversity in playing from show to show and the seemingly infinite amount of passion he puts into every gig he plays, no matter how big or small. Metzger’s impressive versatility and desire to undertake challenges with his playing result in a sincere product that fans can’t seem to get enough of these days.
The night at Joe’s Pub started with Metzger taking the stage to rousing applause, to which he humbly responded, “I haven’t done anything yet — let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” He proceeded to open the show with a lighthearted cover of NRBQ’s “The Things We Like To Do” followed by The Wood Brothers’ “When I Was Young” which included the first of many breakdowns of the evening that would showcase Metzger’s fast fingers. Borrowing again from NRBQ’s catalog, Metzger delivered a sweet version of “Ridin’ in My Car” before switching gears to the banjo flatpicking bluegrass standard “Farewell Blues” which segued into Waylon Jennings’ country hit “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line.” A cover of Nick Lowe’s swinging “I Knew The Bride” preceded an incredibly impressive take on the intricate Bach’s Two-part “Invention No. 4” which led into the bluesy, soulful Metzger original, “Halfway To Georgia.”
After this tune, the first of several bouts of banter began, as Metzger explained that this was probably the 35th time he’d played that room, but the first time that there was anybody really there to witness it.
Settling back into the music, two personal favorite covers came next — Richard Thompson’s “I Feel So Good” and The Band’s “Ophelia.” While diverse in genres, both songs carried a feel-good element, which would help prepare the audience for what Metzger called “the slow section of the show.” A sample of Jim Campilongo’s “Pennies On The Floor” transitioned into the delicate and gorgeous “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day” by Nick Lowe. Following this beautiful ballad, Metzger stopped again to address the audience, admitting, “I’m a big fan of talking about songs but I feel like I’m on VH1 Storytellers!” He continued:
This is a song called “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” It’s an old, anti-war song. It was on in the house when I was growing up and it is very heavy. The reason that I really like this song is because it’s something I see in my own life. It’s that a song can mean something to me at a certain point in my life and then the same song can mean something very different at a different point in my life. But I think that that’s part of like, you know … I don’t use the word “magic” very often, but I think that is part of the magic of music in general. It’s that, you know, you see different parts of yourself as you go through life. And this is one of the only songs that I know of that actually talks about how a song has different meaning in different things. And they kind of framed it — it’s by a group called The Clancy Brothers — and they sort of framed it in the most powerful way possible.
After that tear-inducing, tragically heartbreaking tune, Metzger quickly picked things back up again with John Phillips’ upbeat cowboy song, “Me & My Uncle” which included more fast finger work that seemed to leave the already silent audience speechless. Country blues singer-songwriter Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Katie Mae” followed, once again highlighting Metzger’s soulful, bluesy side. Metzger introduced the next song as “definitely one of the best love songs that’s ever been written” before breaking into the bittersweet “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” by Richard Thompson. Before closing the set with George Jones’ “The Race is On,” the guitarist expressed his extreme gratitude toward the attentive and respectful audience and thanked everyone from the bottom of his heart.
After leaving the stage and returning for an encore, Metzger introduced the Grateful Dead’s “Throwing Stones” by saying:
You know, I wasn’t going to play this one tonight but I guess a lot of you have heard that John Perry Barlow passed away today. Very sad. I’m in a unique position that I’ve been given the privilege of singing a lot of the words that guy wrote all over the country. It’s really a privilege to be able to do that. He wrote a lot of amazing words and touched a ton of people with it. He was also a genius. He was a very important guy. Like I said, I wasn’t going to do this tonight but I feel like, in honor of him — I never met the guy unfortunately and I wish I had, but as a thank-you from me to him …
Finally, to close the show, by fan request, Metzger played Chris Hartford’s arrangement of Prince’s hit, “Pop Life.”
Regarding the incredibly attentive crowd in the room that night, Metzger acknowledged:
I’m incredibly lucky to have audiences that come and see me in a lot of my projects and they really are truly listening audiences. That Joe’s Pub gig, I couldn’t have asked for a better audience. And I immediately realized that I could get really quiet and then get really loud, and the impact of the dynamics of the thing would really be felt because everybody was just really there, just listening. You could hear a pin drop in there for 90 minutes straight. That’s amazing! I’m a very lucky guy to have that.
The next night found Metzger on stage with more people and more instruments, as Infinite Jets played their debut show at Nublu. Metzger explained of the venue, “In that kind of club, really exploring new territory is what’s really appreciated. So it was the perfect room to try something out with four guys that had never played together in that particular configuration before with absolutely no gameplan going into it. It was the perfect room for that and the crowd was totally willing to be open to what they were seeing.”
As you can see from the setlist below, the set didn’t consist of specific songs, but rather separate moments of improvisation.
The first tune started out slow and groovy with a breezy vibe to it, as Cohen and Metzger traded off solos and complemented each other nicely with their tones and styles. As with the audience at Joe’s Pub, the crowd was incredibly quiet and respectful. Russo opened up the next jam with a drum solo followed by Metzger joining him and picking up the pace as the jam got weird and darker. Russo toyed with the tempo and the discordance juxtaposed interestingly with the mellow vibe of the prior tune. Moving on, the band brought forth a more upbeat, funky, rhythmic, and faster-paced groove that was driven by the drum and guitar interplay. A drum peak followed by a blissful segment preceded a deep dive back into the darkness. For a group that seemingly had no defined “leader,” Metzger seemed to be playing a decently large role in calling the shots on stage and orchestrating how things went down.
Next up, both guitarists played concurrently to create a cacophony before Russo kicked it into gear, bringing this sequence to life with a steady, high-intensity, rocking beat. Switching gears, the following section delivered a slower, more delicate sound. Cohen soloed first before Metzger took the driver’s seat to the peak of the jam, ultimately closing the segment sweetly.
For the next piece, Metzger employed an EBow, which is a type of handheld electromagnetic string driver that can allow for a note’s sustain to last, potentially, forever. For the second night in a row, the loudest sound in the room apart from the instruments making music on stage was the clinking of glasses behind the bar. This haunting intro led into a more joyous, celebratory portion before getting quieter again. Audience members shushed one another so they could fully hear and savor every note.
The most experimental jazz segment of the evening followed, inharmonious at first with Metzger’s scraping his strings high up on the fretboard while Russo banged away. Yet, on a dime, the whole band picked up the pace and then slowed it right back down, coming together for a “The Lemon Song” (Led Zeppelin) jam. More relentless jamming with a bass and drums breakdown in the eighth “song” preceded a quieter, more nuanced, and strongly melodic tune for the penultimate groove of the evening.
Before closing out the show, Metzger grabbed the mic to introduce the band, thanking everyone for coming out and exclaiming that he hoped that everyone was enjoying it as much as they were. The final “exploratory improvisation” of the evening was the most twangy and sultry of the jams, with waves of intimate breakdowns and buildups that felt like familiar territory for the WOLF! guitarist.
While it’s hard to believe that four musicians who have never played together before can just get up on stage and play a seamless 90 minutes of music, Metzger explained the reasoning behind going into the performance the way that they did: “We made a very conscious decision. We talked about it in the days and hours leading up to the gig and we kind of said we’re going to resist the natural desire to try and make sure that it’s good by coming up with a gameplan. We’re just going to get up there and play. And I’m proud. We did it. I think there were some great moments in it, for sure.”
The last and final stop on #MetzgerTour was Friday night at Garcia’s at The Capitol Theatre. This familiar space for JRAD guitarist also came with a familiar face on the bill — friend and JRAD bandmate, bassist Dave Dreiwitz. Before WOLF!’s set, Metzger actually joined Dreiwitz and drummer Tomato on stage for a number that JRAD had encored with at their most recent show at that venue, Dr. Feelgood’s “She Does It Right.”
Soon after, WOLF! took the stage with Jay Foote sitting-in on bass in Jon Shaw’s absence and the trio jumped right into a couple of WOLF! classics — “Chuckles,” “Pork ‘n Slaw,” “Humdinger” and “All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go.” Up next was a groovy cover of Stuff’s “Foots” before a blistering rendition of Chet Atkins’ “Jerry’s Breakdown” performed twice in a row, just for good measure. Returning to WOLF! staples, “Sock Full of Quarters” and “Tomahawk Chop” preceded a particularly jammed out “Café Hidalgo” which contained a tease of Phish’s “Stash,” a song the guitarist is quite familiar with.
After some rowdy crowd heckling for “More Phish!” Metzger threw in another tease — this time “Bathtub Gin” — within “Tomatillo Verde.” The fast-paced “Get In The Van” followed by the beautifully slow and deliberate “Denim Love Affair” further demonstrated Metzger’s genre-sweeping abilities and range, even within one particular ensemble. “Fatso’s Last Stand” showcased his blues tendencies while “Tighten Up” brought a more surf rock vibe to the table. “Unspeakable Things” let Metzger show off his chops before “Oaxaca Ox” brought the tempo down again before leading into an upbeat cover of The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy.” Finally, the characteristically twangy WOLF! original “Tish” closed out the set.
While at a glance, this setlist looks like a typical, barn burner of a WOLF! show, a listen to the recording will prove otherwise. Many of these tunes which WOLF! has been playing for years are now starting to get jammed out more and approached from different angles. When asked if this was a conscious decision on the band’s part, Metzger replied:
It’s definitely a conscious decision. We really want to keep it interesting for us onstage so that that excitement hopefully translates to the audience. If we’re going to be playing as much as we are, we have to come up with new ways to approach the tunes. To really get inside of them and find all the possibilities. And then, if we do that in an honest way, we’re more excited. Hopefully, we’re surprising ourselves with where we’re going. And then that will translate to the crowds, you know, because we do have more and more gigs than we ever have had before. And if you’re just going to get up there with the three guys, there needs to be that sense of genuine excitement and discovery to keep the momentum going throughout the year.
Whether it be with WOLF!, JRAD, Infinite Jets, The Showdown Kids, Bustle In Your Hedgerow, or solo, you can catch this well-rounded, hard-working, ever-improving guitarist all around the country this year, so keep an eye out for upcoming dates in your area. Trust me, #MetzgerTour does not disappoint!
Joe Russo’s Almost DeadSTS9LettuceThe Infamous StringdustersThe FlooziesPapadosioEOTOMinnesotaKyle Hollingsworth BandRayland BaxterGhost LightCory WongPsymbionicMarco BeneventoThe BroadcastCBDBKaleigh BakerAjevaLocochinoFunk YouHoney HoundsSide HustleJust Chameleons
- Live Oak, FL
Joe RussoKevin MorbyScott MetzgerKatie CrutchfieldSam CohenBinky GriptiteJeff ChimentiNels ClineMarco BeneventoCraig FinnMeg DuffyDave DreiwitzJosh KaufmanAlecia ChakourStuart BogieNicole AtkinsThe Parkington SistersJon ShawEric D. JohnsonAndy CabicJocie Adams (The Low Anthem)Eric SlickJohn RoderickMatt Trowbridge (Me in the Zoo)
- Port Chester, NY