Part of the excitement of going to a concert is the feeling of suspense after buying tickets. Will the band play your favorite songs? Will the musicians sound as good live as they do on their albums? And, most importantly, will the beautiful guitarist with the man bun make eye contact with you at any point in the show?
But when it comes to Clarence Greenwood (also known as his stage name Citizen Cope), these questions are never a mystery. The audience knows exactly what to expect of the blues/soul/funk musician — and I mean that in the best way possible. Whether you are a fan or not, his raw talent and ability to perform a flawless one-man set means that when he passes through town, his live music should be seen at all costs.
Not only is Greenwood a breathtaking musician (for his music, impeccable style and mysterious aura), he also looks out for the common good. During the week of March 19, Greenwood performed five intimate solo acoustic performances at City Winery (1200 W. Randolph St.) and a percentage of the ticket sales went to purchasing musical instruments for children on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana.
I was lucky enough to get to see one of these shows on March 20, and though I may have been one of the youngest attendees, the environment reminded me that true talent can, and should, be enjoyed by all ages and walks of life. It would be hard not to enjoy the intensified soul melodies, reminiscent of unedited instrumental performances when bands such as Santana and Neil Young flooded the radio airwaves.
Though most of Greenwood’s recorded tracks have some sort of drum-paired production, he stood more than fine on his own, switching up his guitar playing to maintain his rhythmic sounds.
For example, when he played “Penitentiary,” which is usually recorded with a funky, folk drum tempo, he altered his guitar playing to sharp guitar strums mimicking how the drums would sound. Though it seems like this would cut the music down from its full potential, the acoustic style offered a mixed-up version that displayed even more of his musical capabilities as a guitarist.
Greenwood played everything from his well-known songs such as “Bullet and a Target” and “Son’s Gonna Rise,” to some unreleased tracks. Every single song held the same standard of perfection as the last, and though he didn’t speak much throughout the show (staying true to his quiet demeanor), his lyrics gave him the opportunity to say all he needed to say to please the crowd. With every word, he wasn’t just singing lyrics to a song; he let each word show a measure of his emotion, like he was talking to a best friend rather than a room full of strangers.
Aside from his instrumental abilities, Greenwood’s lyrics always tell a story that display him as an in-depth, introspective musician. His subject matter consists of money, broken love and crime; one track could be something you would hear at a wedding, but then it would be followed by a song that you would want to blast when you’re escaping town with your car top down. Alternating between the different vibes offered a variety of tracks that made the live show pretty close to impossible to get bored at.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, the southern-sounding tinge and lyrical discussion of being an outlaw in all of his music bring out his southern boy side. The folky-jazz sounds have a very timeless appeal, and his unique vocal ability — mixing his raspy voice with simple acoustics — makes him seem more like an old-time musician than a modern recording artist.
During the show Greenwood built an environment of complete transparency and intimacy with the crowd — no matter where you were sitting in the venue, the music reached you in some special way. He often seemed like he was stoned with his eyes half open and his carefree, low voice often thanking the crowd for their support in between songs.
While performing the extremely intense and slow song “Lifeline,” Greenwood paused midway through the chorus and turned away from the audience. For the 30 seconds that his back was to everyone, it was up in the air whether he was emotionally affected (like the rest of his audience) or if something was actually wrong. He then returned to the microphone, receiving a chuckle from the crowd after he explained, “I was about to sneeze… I still might.”
After finishing up his set, Greenwood performed an encore of three more songs, one of those being “107 Degrees,” from Every Waking Moment (2006). It closed up the night with a nice balance of older material that most of the fans had probably attended to hear. The acoustics of the track, evoked a more passionate and emotional version than his recorded track, as he sang “Your love is 7 feet deep / It’s 107 degrees / And I’m walking ‘cause my life ain’t free.”
His authenticity and genuine nature carried over to the close of the show when he stayed on stage an extra few minutes to personally shake hands with audience members.
It was a night that left attendees happy, and Greenwood’s presence alone was enough to send home a venue full of people that were drunk on wine, love, good vibes and an astounding show.