It’s like this: I loved my Uncle Jack, although I didn’t see him very often and he wasn’t a big presence in my day-to-day life. But if I were to hear his voice today, it would open up the memories of everything Uncle Jack meant to me – and it wouldn’t matter what words were spoken.
That’s how it was with Jim Messina. The specific songs he played weren’t the point: it was that voice, that guitar sound, and all the long-forgotten closet doors of memory that they opened.
Jim Messina, engineer/producer for Buffalo Springfield, member of Poco, but perhaps most recognizable as half of Loggins and Messina. Although Messina originally lent his name to Loggins’ album to help introduce him to fans, it was Kenny Loggins who went on to become a hit-making machine with movie music like “Footloose” and “Danger Zone.” Occasionally I would ask, Whatever happened to Jim Messina? – especially after I started getting Democracy for America emails from someone named Jim Messina -- but no one could tell me. Now I learn from Wikipedia that his first solo album, in 1979, was not supported by Columbia because of its Latino flavor – it didn’t sound like a Loggins & Messina album, basically. So he changed labels and did continue to record into the early ‘80s, but I was unaware of it.
I also missed Poco’s reunion tour in 1989, and the Legacy album released the same year. But 1989 was a big year for my family: we moved into the house we’d been renovating, we saw The Who and Roger Waters, we got a kitten … So, Poco moved on without me.
But now it’s 2017, and Messina took the stage at the Wildey with his own band. They played “Follow Your Dreams” from Legacy about halfway through the first set, which kicked off with a song from the new album, “Mojito Moon (Michaela’s Song).” I cannot make you feel it, but I was overwhelmed with nostalgia, even though I was hearing this song for the first time. It was a private, very personal reaction.
… Which is kind of perfect, because before the concert I chatted with the man next to me. He does some sound mixing, and I got excited about it, and we talked about the very personal nature of experiencing sound. He said the “young kids” he works with can hear a lot more than he can. He seemed sad about it, but I suggested it’s wonderful that we each get something different out of music. Chuckling, he agreed: his church can always tell when he’s doing the sound because he boosts the bass. Yay!
A couple of weeks ago I had a mild disagreement with someone who wants to hear stories from the musicians onstage. I said it depends: Mark Knopfler says barely a word beyond “Hello,” but he puts on one of the best shows I’ve seen; and I prefer that approach to preprogrammed patter. But she's right too: it is nice to hear some of the backstory of the songs.
Messina told a story about “Whispering Waters” that turned out to be standard-repertoire patter, but still enjoyable. He said the band was at Big Sur, and decided to visit the Esalen Institute. From the Findhorn Foundation, they learned about “nature spirits,” which – he explained – are fairies. The song began with some Poco-type harmonies that didn’t quite work, but it soon allowed fiddler Gary Oleyar to show off (and the vocal harmonies got better). After Oleyar’s well-deserved applause, Messina said he “forgot to warn” us that in the nature spirits tradition, the violin is the instrument of the devil; now we had all been exposed. Someone in the audience hollered, “Then let’s hear more!” and Messina calmly replied, “Oh, you’ll hear more of it pretty soon.” I love the audience interaction that is possible in small venues. A woman in the front row bounced and danced in her seat throughout the concert, and eventually both Messina and his bassist played directly to her.
Speaking of the bassist, I hated him, so – as noted in another post – I am mentally photoshopping Gus Thornton in place of the Jim Messina Band bassist in all my memories. It may take a while, but I’m committed. But I loved the guy on woodwinds, Craig Thomas, who did the dorkiest on-stage dancing I’ve ever seen. It was almost like he was imitating the way *I* dance! And he had terrific embouchure. Had I met him afterward, that’s what I would have said, so it’s probably just as well. He played soprano sax, alto sax, flute – and when a guy can pucker up to hit those high notes so sweetly, he’s gotta be a great kisser, wouldn’t you think?
I had plenty of chances to muse on this during Loggins & Messina’s “Be Free,” with its extended instrumental bridge (to which I never paid any attention, back in 1976 when the album was released; I just wanted the vocals to pick up again). Seeing it performed live, I could follow Messina on mandolin; Thomas, playing flute with the alto sax slung around his neck; Oleyar stepping forward to give us some happy pizzicato … what a wonderful, nearly forgotten song.
Of course, as the tempo picked up for the finale, “Angry Eyes” was the ultimate vehicle for solos from all the band members: you’d almost think it was written specifically to show off instrumental solos. It was a blast, energizing and joyful.
And what could possibly follow it, as an encore?