Marshall Crenshaw seems so comprehensively capable I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him solve the fiscal cliff mess all by himself, step in for RG3 and win Sunday’s NFC wild card game for the Redskins and stop global warming.
On Saturday, he’ll rock ’n’ roll, all by himself, at the Van Dyck.
Maybe the hardest thing he’s managed in a 30-year-long career: He won an A+ for his 1983 album “Field Day” from hard-to-please Robert Christgau, plus an A for his self-named debut the year before.
But that was just the start.
Well, OK: He really started by portraying John Lennon for years in “Beatlemania,” perfect training for mastering the concise sincerity that elevates his own music to pop-rock heaven. At times, for Crenshaw, however, “Beatlemania” was hell. “I hate the Beatles,” he lied, with exaggerated, weary frustration, backstage after opening a Beach Boys concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, recalling millions of miles of burnout as a human jukebox.
It’s miracle enough that he bounced back from “Beatlemania” to portray Buddy Holly convincingly in the Richie Valens biopic “La Bamba.” But also, and more importantly, he crafts simple, unerringly fresh-sounding songs of his own — his best compare impressively with the Beatles or Holly — through a try-almost-anything fearless curiosity within the singer-songwriter framework.
His first albums were stripped down as a 1950s hot rod, recorded with just drums and bass until that trio “ran out of steam” as he told me in 2003. Between the trio’s 1983 breakup and 2003’s “What’s in the Bag,” his best in 20 years, Crenshaw mostly recorded and toured all by himself. He made country music, soul music, funk music and rock ’n’ roll — both originals and often surprising covers.
And he tried lots of other things.
He wrote and performed the score for the Yogi Berra baseball film “Déjà Vu All Over Again.” In addition to “La Bamba,” he acted and made music in “Peggy Sue Got Married” and acted in TV’s “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.” He earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song for writing the title track for the 2007 music-comedy film “Walk Hard,” sung onscreen by John C. Reilly. Best known as a whole-package tunesmith, Crenshaw is also a versatile, highly skilled guitarist: The reunited Detroit proto-punk band MC5 invited him to play on their reunion tour.
And he’s a fine prose writer. When bassist James Jamerson of Motown’s studio Funk Brothers band died, Crenshaw wrote the obituary for Rolling Stone — a story so compelling that Alan Slutsky wrote a book that inspired the film “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.” When the surviving Funk Brothers reunited to play the Apollo Theater in November 2002, they asked Crenshaw to play with them — “my favorite thing that’s ever happened to me in show business,” he told me.
In 2011, Crenshaw launched “The Bottomless Pit,” a radio show on WFUV in New York.
He has continued recording and performing, visiting here often from homes in Woodstock or New York City — where I met him watching NRBQ’s 30th anniversary show at the Bowery Ballroom, hypnotized and happy like everyone else. He’s played the Van Dyck, WAMC’s The Linda and other small venues here, usually solo. And he plays solo at the Van Dyck on Saturday at 7 and 9:30 p.m.
“I like the intimacy and quietness [of playing solo],” he told me. “You can really hear what the songs are and what they’re about.”
Few singer-songwriters of the rock era have made so many songs that are both instantly pleasurable on the surface and rewarding in their meaning. His early hits have such timeless strength they could have hit anytime in the rock era, including next week; and he keeps making new ones.
Marshall Crenshaw plays on Saturday at the Van Dyck (237 Union St., Schenectady), at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Admission is $18 in advance, $22 on Saturday. Phone 348-7999 or visit www.vandycklounge.com.
Crenshaw’s guitar and voice delivery will look folk-ish on Saturday, though he’s a rocker, soulman, country artist, actor, cinema composer and writer. But some important folk acts also play here this week.
Solas, Duhks at The Egg
Homegrown in America but inspired by their Irish roots, Solas has changed ingredients (some players and singers) in their nearly decade-long, 10-album run. But the recipe remains the same: leader Seamus Egan’s all-purpose virtuosity, Winifred Horan’s fiddle fire and the well-woven talents of accordionist Mick McAuley, guitarist and keyboardist Eamon McElholm and singer Niamh Varian-Barry.
On Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Solas — area favorites for fine shows here — team up at The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) with the Canadian string band the Duhks: fiddler Casey Driessen, singer Sarah Dugas, guitarist Jordan McConnell, banjoist Leonard Podolak and drummer Christian Dugas. Both have fresh albums and terrific onstage energy.
Tickets are $24. Phone 473-1845 or visit www.theegg.org.
Schmidt, Rogers step up
Renowned solo performers Claudia Schmidt and Sally Rogers team up on their third album — and first in 22 years! — “Evidence of Happiness” and onstage on Saturday at the Eighth Step at Proctors Underground (432 State St., Schenectady). Show time is 7:30 p.m. Admission is $22 in advance, $24 at the door. Phone 434-1703 or 346-6204, or visit www.eighthstep.org or www.proctors.org.
Busy Caffe Lena
Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs) has a full slate this weekend.
Mike (Merenda) and Ruthy (Ungar) visit on Friday at 8 p.m., boasting fresh tunes from “The NYC EP” and a loyal local following. Admission is $15, members $12, children under 13, $7.50. Phone 583-0022 or visit www.caffelena.org.
On Saturday, Canadians Bill Bourne and Catherine MacLellan take over as part of the Maple Leaf Series, playing separately starting at 8 p.m. Bourne is from Alberta, MacLellan from Nova Scotia. Admission is $16, members $14, children under 13, $8.
Phil Spoor pays tribute to his talented parents on Sunday with “Songs of Pete and Dottie Spoor” — founders of the Pickin’ & Singin’ Gatherin’ (PSG) and well-loved troubadours in their own right. Bassist/guitarist Jefferson Thomas accompanies Phil Spoor in this benefit for the PSGE’s GottaGetGon Festival this Memorial Day weekend. Show time is 7 p.m. Admission is $15.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.