Two songs into his set at Silver Moon Brewing & Taproom in Bend on Saturday night, Eugene-based bluesman David Jacobs-Strain slid his pinky finger into a metal slide and softly grunted into the mic: “I heard there’s some people here who wanna hear the blues.”
There were, indeed. An impressive number of folks showed up just in time to hear Jacobs-Strain, a prodigiously talented 26-year-old guitarist who plays in Bend frequently but was making a rare appearance here with a full band.
When I arrived at Silver Moon at 8 p.m., Jacobs-Strain and his three sidemen were sound-checking to a frighteningly empty room; there couldn’t have been more than two or three dozen souls scattered around the bar. Between 8:30 and 9 p.m., though, people streamed in one after another after another. Some headed for the pool table area to chat, while others formed a semi-circle around the stage to wait for the band to start.
The chatters chatted throughout the night. Bystanders who aren’t interested in the live music are to be expected at any bar show, but I can’t remember a group as loud as this one. Their post-Thanksgiving revelry was noisy. Not particularly rude, but noisy.
That’s too bad because they missed a solid set from an old soul. As is his wont, Jacobs-Strain infused the tunes with a little bit of this and that — pop, rock, reggae, etc. — but by and large, he worked from a palette slathered with rootsy, traditional blues.
That was particularly true on the opening number, “How Long,” and a cover of Allen Toussaint’s classic “Get Out Of My Life, Woman,” during which Jacobs-Strain pushed that slide up and down the guitar’s fretboard like his fingers were on fire. The guy is a joy to watch play, because you can see that he feels each note; sound seems to course up through his body, through his hands and onto the strings. (It causes some of those requisite “I’m-really-into-the-music” faces that lots of guitarists make, too.)
But while Jacobs-Strain’s music is rooted in the old way, it’s clear he also fully absorbs the modern world. He is 26, after all. A couple songs into the set, he introduced his band as the Crunk Mountain Boys, referencing the popular 21st century rap style, and then proceeded to turn his bouncy song “Liar’s Day” into a reggae-flavored jam.
A few minutes later, he mentioned that he just finished recording an album that hasn’t yet been released, but that he had self-bootlegged copies available at the merch table. Those interested in artwork and liner notes were directed to his Facebook page.
And then came the best moment of the night, at least that I saw. (I had to leave about halfway through the set.) Jacobs-Strain introduced a cover of Stephen Stills’ “Treetop Flyer” and then turned to his band and said, away from the mic, “Let’s get psychedelic.”
That they did. The band turned Stills’ folksy tune into an extended blues jam, with plenty of space for solos all the way around the stage. With the quartet locked into a sweet groove, Jacobs-Strain spent most of the song with his eyes closed, swaying to the beat of his percussionist’s box drum and wrangling a little extra weirdness out of his trusty six-string.
That, to me, is what sets Jacobs-Strain apart from so many of his contemporaries. The guy’s fully indebted to the past, for sure, but also blessed with a progressive outlook that’s needed in the blues these days.