Jeffrey Wilgus – By Request
Live from the Laurie Beechman Theatre
Monday, April 27, 2009 Terry
I had the pleasure of taking in the performance of Jeffrey Wilgus at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on Monday, April 27, 2009. I always am curious about various spaces especially associated with the cabaret scene as many venues in New York City are tight, sometimes cramped, but usually intimate. The space Wilgus had picked was abnormally spacious by New York City venue standards and very inviting from the moment I stepped into the room which is painted in warm, harvest orange with touches of pomegranate hues of deep reds and purples and recessed, rustic beam ceiling work. A rather large sound booth was in the back and a slightly higher than the floor, ample stage area was empty and awaiting its’ evening star. When Jeffrey took to the stage after a rousing applause on the 2nd night of his successful but brief 2 night run, he exuded confidence, warmth, and immediately engaged his audience with a friendly hello. Performing on a Monday night is a rather brave move as Monday is probably the least likely night of the week, post matinee and hard to land weekend evening spots for a performer to play any room, let alone one as large as this. Jeffrey’s crowd was more than respectable on this Monday night and the fact that 50+ people had attended the night prior says that Wilgus has a legion of faithful listeners who will attend his live shows regardless of what night of the week.
Now at the center of his stage, Jeffrey began his performance with George Michael’s Something To Save. It was a filled with great emotional connectivity and beautiful crystal clear upper tenor notes that sailed through the open space. I recognized through the passion in his the upper notes a ‘cry’ kind of quality that immediately brought to mind Sam Harris. The same ‘cry’ quality was also what made Country star, Tammy Wynette, a legend. When Jeffrey is singing, his presence is very calm and quiet which then soothingly wraps his listener into the vocals that are being performed. Throughout this night, Jeffrey Wilgus delivered the vocal goods, song after song while accompanied by the very skilled and talented Haim Cotton on piano and Assaf Ben-Nun on acoustic guitar.
Jeffrey’s 2nd song, Under The Influence was his first song of original material which sung of the intoxicating rapture of love and being in love. The 3rd song of the night, Alone Again (Naturally) was a 70’s cover tune that exhibited Wilgus’s wide vocal range of notes reminiscent of an obvious influence, Billy Joel as well as his rich, warm and smooth lower notes.
I had noted and suspected early on in the evening 3 multi-award winning singer-songwriting legends, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow and John Denver whose influences as singers-songwriters had clearly made a huge impression upon Wilgus as well as the combo of Joel and Denver being present in Wilgus’s original songs.
It was during the intro of the 4th song performed by Wilgus that he in fact paid homage to Billy Joel by speaking about his admiration for the Long Island native by performing the non-typical, non- signature Joel song, Turn Around. It was in this song that Jeffrey’s lower notes were filled with a smoky resonance that when accompanied by this singers story-teller eyes, confirmed why so many loyal friends of this performer had come out to hear and see him. Though his 5th song, Danglin’ was performed by Johnny Rogers and written by Maury Yeston. It was inescapable to hear the influence of Billy Joel again and specifically the sound of Joel’s work found on Glass Houses.
Within the lineup was a song that was introduced by accident as it was not to be on the bill this night. It was, as I had noted earlier as an influence, a John Denver 1969 classic, Daydream which Wilgus helped the room remember why John Denver was such a prolific writer and influence to so many writers and why he is still sorely missed. Jeffrey sang Daydream with a brightness and sense of hope very much in keeping with a Denver’s style.
Jeffrey continued on through his musical lineup with songs such as Is It Ok If I Call You Mine from TV’s Fame series, the 2nd original song of the night, 2E which was a poetic, beautifully written song with smartly placed lyric references to Billy Joel (Piano Man) and Elton John (Rocket Man), the very poignant, deeply reflective and moving delivery of The Beatles’, In My Life, and Wilgus aptly left his listeners ears ringing with the Billy Joel tune, Souvenir.
As a vocalist first, Jeffrey Wilgus seems to pick material that is close to his heart on a personal and emotional level both by song title and lyric content. Wilgus takes these songs and blends the stories of his own life with that of the story in the lyrics and through his reserved, quiet, yet commanding presence on stage, is able to convey the dovetailed emotionally anchored end result with a concise connectivity that is also demonstrated in the music of his latest CD, Signature. Wilgus’s vocal range is rather impressive and he masters this with great control. Jeffrey does this by emulating the emotion within every note as opposed to notes just being sung as a calculated, vocal move.
If I had one constructive comment about the show, it would be that I would have liked to see Jeffrey perform more of his own originals, which also seemed to be the joined consensus of the room this Monday night. There is a writing talent in Wilgus that is rare in today’s, nower-than-now, cooler-than-cool music. Wilgus harkens back to the day when through a storytellers eyes, words connected to a songwriter’s personal experience. Those words then conveyed an emotional story which in turn engaged its’ listeners and embraced them in what was a shared common life experience set in motion by lyrics, rhythm, instruments and voice.
In the landscape of the male singer-songwriter, Jeffrey Wilgus clearly holds his own when performing the material of the legends he pays homage to in his live shows. However, having been a student of such legends in the craft and art of songwriting, Wilgus in his own right demonstrates songwriting chops that are perhaps that of a legend in the making. The only true judge of that will be time and only time will tell.
You may find out more about Jeffrey Wilgus by going to www.JeffreyWilgus.com.