Throughout his all-too-short performance Friday night at The Linda, Diego Garcia kept mentioning that this was his first time performing in Albany — or the first that anyone will remember, anyway.
“You guys were so drunk at LarkFest,” he quipped during the encore, referring to his actual first time in Albany, playing the annual festival in September. That he returned so soon after is testament to his abilities alone, and this show only reinforced it. There will be no forgetting Garcia after this hour-long performance.
Garcia led a low-key, stripped down version of his band — featuring classical guitarist Zeke Zima, cellist Danny Bensi, bassist Chris O’Connell and drummer Zeke Hutch — through songs from his debut album, “Laura,” kicking off with the melancholy yet still bouncy “Stay.” The band really kicked into gear on the next song, “Under This Spell” — here, Bensi gave the first of many commanding performances on cello while joining Garcia and O’Connell on the song’s lilting harmony lines.
Throughout, Garcia would strut between band members, holding his acoustic, occasionally kneeling before one of the soloists in awe. He had plenty of opportunities, especially from Zima, whose crisp playing on “Separate Lives” made the song one of the evening’s early highlights.
Bensi fired back with a great cello lead to close out “Roses and Wine,” receiving thunderous applause from the nearly-full crowd.
Though Bensi and Zima were the band’s instrumental MVPs, no one was a slouch here — O’Connell kept things smooth on the bass, never overplaying his fills, and Hutch could be seen bouncing away in the back, keeping the rest of the band anchored.
But Garcia was still the star of the show, all suave cool and crooning confidently during a mutated cover of The Kinks’ “Strange Effect” and “Nothing to Hide,” a standout duet between himself and Bensi. Later on, during the climactic “Laura,” he eschewed the acoustic guitar entirely and belted it out with the mic in his hand, swaying to the music with his bandmates.
Garcia left the stage as the band plunged headlong into a bittersweet jam, ending in an instrumental conversation between Bensi’s cello and Zima’s guitar. As the band launched into “All Eyes on You,” Garcia returned, beckoning the crowd to its feet. The song ended with both band and crowd dancing and singing together. The group encored with Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and “You Were Never There,” but nothing could top the energy release of “All Eyes on You.”
Local singer-songwriter Matt Durfee opened the show with a low-key, 40-minute set of solo material, showing off his fingerpicking skills and multiple tunings. Songs such as “Kid Gloves” and “The Whole Nine” remained rooted in folk and bluegrass traditions, with strong storytelling elements, but Durfee’s eclectic guitar playing brought elements of jazz experimentation and surf bravado to the material.
Best was “Everyone Wants to Be Right,” a song from his duo Palatypus that featured Durfee’s strongest singing of the evening on one of his most appealing melodies.
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