PHOTOS / RECAP: Jonathan Wilson @ Del Monte Speakeasy, Venice CA 5/28/12

Do yourself a favor and put Jonathan Wilson on your concert radar.

Last night in Venice, CA singer / songwriter / producer Jonathan Wilson played an intimate show for a lucky few. The show at Del Monte Speakeasy was announced just a day earlier via his Twitter feed (@songsofJW) and was a free show. The venue was essentially a basement turned speakeasy bar with low ceilings and makeshift spotlights. Having frequented just about every music venue in LA, this was one of the more unique and eclectic I’ve been to. Heading down the stairs felt like a scene out of a Quentin Tarantino film. The perfect introduction to North Carolina’s next big thing in Jonathan Wilson.

Wilson has been on the Los Angeles scene for awhile now, but up until late hadn’t delivered an album of his own. Instead he’s helped other artists like Jackson Browne, Dawes and Robbie Roberston record their music for the masses. In September of last year, Wilson finally released “Gentle Spirit”, drawing comparisons to Neil Young, Pink Floyd, The Allman Brothers Band (Dickey Betts tone?) and just about every other band who had a hit in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s the Laurel Canyon, hippie, laid-back, driving up the PCH vibe that permeates the album and rightfully so. Wilson up until 2009 had a studio in Laurel Canyon which gained popularity amongst musicians in the area and had the LA Times declare him the savior of the Canyon Jam. Most notable to LMB readers are his collaborations with Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes) and Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead). A few years ago Chris and Phil had Wilson produce an album that was never released featuring originals from the two. Wilson has since moved his studio to Echo Park but the Laurel Canyon folk-rock vibe still exists in his songwriting and live show.

In front of a sparse yet very energetic crowd, lined with summer dresses and plaid shirts, you could tell many of the people in the audience were friends and family of the band. This would be Jonathan Wilson’s last gig in the United States until September as he’ll be opening up for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers on their tour through Europe in a few weeks.

Running through just about every track on Gentle Spirit with ease, the band highlighted their standout track “Desert Raven” half way through the two and a half hour set and let it all hang out. It was one of the better shows I’ve seen this year from any band — and to think what these guys could sound like in a proper LA venue like the Wiltern or The El Rey had me in a musical daydream.

Wilson has shot to the top of my list of musicians to keep an eye on and I urge you to give his album a try if you take a liking to Wilco/CrosbyStills&Nash/Tom Petty. You can stream the entire Gentle Spirit album on his official site here. If you don’t have time to listen to the entire thing, I highly recommend (as previously noted), ‘Desert Raven’, and ‘Natural Rhapsody’. Wilson’s Desert Raven is one of the best songs I’ve heard since Wilco’s Impossible Germany in 2006.

Setlist 5.28.12

Despite the less than stellar lighting in the basement, here are a few photos from last night: