John Sebastian

Sometimes a performer does a show for his audience and sometimes he does one for himself. And while this small-club homecoming unquestionably fell into the latter category, Summer of Love vet John Sebastian made sure the assembled throng felt like part of the inner circle.

With:
Musicians: John Sebastian, Jimmy Vivino, Geoff Muldaur, Fritz Richmond, Annie Raines, Paul Rishell, James Wormworth.

Sometimes a performer does a show for his audience and sometimes he does one for himself. And while this small-club homecoming unquestionably fell into the latter category, Summer of Love vet John Sebastian made sure the assembled throng felt like part of the inner circle.

Sebastian could easily have coasted through an oldies revue, but — other than turning in a sweetly loping rendition of the Mississippi John Hurt song that gave the band its name — the only reference to the Lovin’ Spoonful was a breezy run-through of “Daydream,” with the languid whistling outro intact.

The bespectacled troubadour led an expedition through his jug-band roots — with an actual jug, hoisted by longtime compatriot Fritz Richmond, at the fore of many tunes — traipsing through songs by such icons as Leadbelly and obscure heroes like Yank Rachell (whose “Tappin’ That Thing” was a highlight).

Although ostensibly the star of the show, Sebastian didn’t hog the spotlight, taking lead vocals on only half the songs performed. Not that the momentum slowed when bandmates such as Jimmy Vivino (whose wily growl goosed the group’s take on “Milk Cow Blues”) or Paul Rishell (a more high-lonesome singer with a rustic tone that meshed perfectly with the Charley Patton guitar lines he plucked from his acoustic).

Like any good jug band, the septet onstage played fast and loose, switching off guitar, mandolin and banjo and coaxing on-the-spot set changes — including one spurred by Maria Muldaur, who surprised Sebastian by strolling from the audience to take the lead on a ragged-but-right version of Hurt’s “Hey Honey, Right Away.”

By all accounts, this was a one-time only get-together for Sebastian’s most recent recording band, but it sounds as if the singer is rejuvenated enough to sustain the good-time spirit all by himself.

John Sebastian

Bitter End, New York; 217 capacity; $20

Production: Presented inhouse. Reviewed Aug. 19, 1999.

Cast: Musicians: John Sebastian, Jimmy Vivino, Geoff Muldaur, Fritz Richmond, Annie Raines, Paul Rishell, James Wormworth.

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