Only Garland Jeffreys can sing about Coney Island as dark and broken, as he does in “Coney Island Winter.”
In “Any Rain,” he sang of “black rain, red rain, any rain, anything to ease the pain.”
For all his grit and cynicism, Jeffreys inspired a packed house at The Linda on Friday night with Brooklynese street poetry — sometimes he even recited a verse or two of lyrics before singing the song.
“Too white to be black, too black to be white,” he sang in “It’s What I Am,” a new tune he called “a very special song to me,” capturing a life spent on the outside looking in.
He dedicated “Contortionist” to the late Lou Reed, then spoke about their 50-year friendship, beginning when they met as students at Syracuse University.
“He was a wonderful guy, often misunderstood,” he sang. “Everybody, everybody needs somebody to love.”
Jeffreys sings his lyrics, but just as often, like Reed, he talks through the lines, delivering them with theatrical emphasis. But more than Reed, he likes to pack the lines with extra syllables and overcrowd them into a few meters.
He also has throwaway Dylan-like lines, like, “The king who wears the crown is not the king ... necessarily.”
He played with only two guys — drummer Tom Curiano and Greg Reinhard on keyboards and acoustic guitar. There was no bass player, but the sound filled the room nicely, as do most acts at WAMC’s performance theater.
Jeffreys dedicated to the “youngsters” his reggae song “I May Not Be Your Kind.” The crowd cheered to this, the overwhelming bulk of them in their 40s or 50s. The vibrant and still rebellious Jeffries boasted his age of 70, calling them “not that old.”
“Truth serum, pouring the liquid down the man’s throat ... lies lies and more lies I don’t hear the truth,” he sang alone before the band joined him with a blues groove.
“Do you tell the truth?” he asked the crowd, quiet at this point.
A few laughed, and he pointed. “Those are the ones who lie.”
He called out a few more people to tell the truth and continued the song as if it were a John Lee Hooker blues tune. Earlier, Jeffreys played, “Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me.” It seems Jeffries has patience for Hooker.
Earlier, during “35 Millimeter Dreams,” he described his dreams and asked the crowd point-blank, “What’s you got?”
He played “Spanish Town” from his 1977 “Ghost Rider,” which he said was a “once in a lifetime experience. Even I think it’s good.” This might have been the best song of the night.
“Wild in the Streets” ended the set, his most popular and probably hardest rock song about life in New York City streets. It wasn’t the strongest moment of the night — and it was quick — but it was fun to hear. For an encore, he followed with a wonderful version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry,” then “Ship of Fools.”
Performers at The Linda like to talk to their audience. Jeffreys talked some, but mostly played his music, which was refreshing, though it’s always good to hear him speak, given his storied past.
“I like to put out albums every 15 years or so. I want to make sure you really love me,” he joked.
Fortunately, his appearances are more numerous than his record output.