Freedy Johnston Packs the House in San Francisco

Posted on December 6, 2013 | by Mark Segal Kemp

Freedy Johnston

People who go to house concerts are pretty considerate.

“You need a chair?” a thoughtful fan asked Freedy Johnston Thursday night, when the singer-songwriter took center livingroom in a San Francisco home once owned by former Giants great Orlando Cepeda.

“No, I’m just gonna stand up and move around a little bit,” Johnston replied. “I hope it’s not too unnerving.”

Then he picked up a battered 1969 Martin D-28 (“it came to me broken, like a rescue dog,” he told me after the show) and launched into a 21-song acoustic set that had him singing old tunes about complicated relationships (his ‘90s hit “Evie’s Tears”), new ones about spacemen (“The First to Leave the World is the First to See the World”), and amazing material he’s written with kindred spirits (“Sweet  Señorita,” from his 2012 album, The Hobart Brothers & Lil' Sis Hobart, with Jon Dee Graham and Susan Cowsill).

Johnston broke out a borrowed 12-string Taylor for a sad song about his divorce (“When the Love is Gone”), and a borrowed ukulele for a delightful version of “Lonely Penny,” from his 2010 album, Rain on the City.

Almost as engaging as Johnston’s own songs were his stellar cover choices: Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to be Kind” (which was “made for ukulele!”), Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Linemen” (complete with a story about Glen Campbell’s hit being an unfinished version of the song), the Replacements’ “I Will Dare”, Marshall Crenshaw’s “Someday, Someway”, and a snippet of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” as a faux beginning to his own song of the same name.

“Am I doing OK?” he repeatedly asked the 40 or so people sitting on folding chairs and a pair of white couches.

He did just fine.

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