Jake Speed’s Year In Review
Though we have about eight weeks left, local Folk singer/songwriter Jake Speed presented his own “year in review” last night at the Rohs Street Cafe in Clifton. Speed’s Thursday night show was a retrospective of his experiences writing a song a week for his “Speedy Delivery” project, which is housed weekly at citybeat.com. Speed is one of the most charming performers in the area and his funny, candid recollections about his “songatorials” (or singing editorials, named so for the songs’ use of current events for thematic fodder) made the Rohs Street show part stand-up comedy/part “Inside the Songwriter’s Studio,” as Jake had the 30 or so attendees alternately riveted in silence and (mostly) booming with laughter.
Chronologically, Speed played several of the songs and talked about their impetus, but he also touched on several tunes he didn’t play, reminding everyone of the news cycle of that particular week. For example, “Love Is The Screw” was written for Valentine’s Day, but also featured references to the Rolling Stones’ Super Bowl halftime show, U2 winning big at the Grammy’s and Kim Jong Il’s threats of nuclear testing (“That one kind of came back around, huh?” Jake joked as he sang that part). It was fun to watch people go “Oh, yeah” every time Jake referred back to “newsworthy” events of the year — everything from the anniversaries of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 to that fateful day “Dick Cheney decided to shoot someone in the face.”
The casual presentation allowed Jake to stop mid-song if the mood struck. With modesty, he often downplayed several songs as not being very good (he lied — most of them are amazing), abandoning one completely because he suddenly realized it “sucked.” He also would stop songs occasionally to point out certain lines. In “Jose Can’t You See,” Jake back-tracked to draw attention to the line, “You’re going to jail and we’re throwing away the Francis Scott Key” (“Let’s go back to that line,” Jake said, “I don’t think I got enough credit.”).
Speed’s talk of the process of writing (he’d write the songs every Sunday during “church hours”) was inspiring insight into the art of topical songwriting, as he recalled the anxiety of coming up with not only the structures and melodies, but also the subject matter, which seemed to cause him the most stress. Speed said “Everybody Wants to Burn” was inspired by seeing The Raconteurs (who, he claimed, “have one good song”) on Conan O’Brien’s show and wanting to write something outside of his usual Folk idioms. He then played the slinky riff and declared it his “Indie Rock song.” Other highlights from the night included two hysterical songs that Jake said were his students’ favorites (Jake’s a high school English teacher by day). “You Can Google It” and “A Whole Lot More Chuck Norris” had the careful listeners in stitches and are well worth another listen.
Not every track was sprinkled with humor. Speed brought some levity with “The Racist Barber,” about a woman who cut his hair and began making racial remarks, thinking it was okay because Jake was also white. The song made the room even more silent and showed the deeper themes of justice, honesty and everymanisms that also are a big part of his work.
After about an hour-and-a-half worth of talking and playing (plus the raffling off of some CDs featuring many of the “songatorials” from the year), Speed brought the show to a close with his most recent tune, “Don’t Vote For Him,” a play on the political mud-slinging infecting the country right now. It brought us up to date and everyone left into the cold night with huge grins on their faces. Like Jon Stewart, Jake Speed isn’t a real newsman, but I’d rather listen to Jake’s takes than the majority of the talking-head pundits littering the airwaves. Jake’s got eight more songs to go and I for one can’t wait to hear ’em.
— Mike Breen