Citizen Cope Can Cope Just Fine
Sara Swinson
8/30/2005 10:16:25 PM

What would happen if Al Green baptized Bob Marley but then Bob filled his bong with Al’s holy water? What would happen if Marley shared Al’s holy water with Arlo Guthrie and both got high while playing hip-hop and blues? Who knows? Maybe it would end up sounding like Citizen Cope live.

On August 22nd, Citizen Cope fans crammed the Duck Room in St. Louis. The room is notable for its decoy duck décor, but once inside the cabin-like venue one can’t help but revel in the decorator’s woodsmen sensibilities. But Cope’s admirers weren’t pondering the fowl feng-shui; instead they worshipfully inhaled major doses of rasta-gospa musicishness, for nearly two hours.

Citizen Cope is a five-piece band fronted by singer/songwriter/producer, Clarence Greenwood—a Memphis born, D.C. transplant whose diverse musical influences figure prominently in his work. His sensibilities are eclectic, yet, consist of a singular unifying structure.

Onstage, Greenwood was wedged between two inspired keyboards; one of which was pentecostally plunked upon. The result? It felt like revival time under the tent. The organ playing was a stirring touch— in conjunction with a high power bass line, funky drumming and Greenwood’s emotionally resonant voice— it all added up to an arousing spiritual pathos … that you could dance to. The churchy pipes lifted the music to godly, praise-filled heights. When Greenwood prophetically sang, “I will carry you through the Hurricane waters/ and I’ll remember you in the blue skies”—it was like Jesus comforting His disciples. People linked arms and swayed. Ironically, this happened about a week before hurricane Katrina actually hit New Orleans.

When he plaintively sang, “Salvation”—it sounded like a prayerful meditation with eyes half-closed. The concert felt like an ecumenical movement of music which had the effect of fusing the whole body of work into oneness, yet, individual songs were sacrificed on the alter of thematic consistency. Tune to tune, little diversity expressed itself. Each song sounded like it could’ve been an extension of the previous song, like so many popular jam bands. This may have been intentional. This may have been unintentional.

Greenwood opened his set with “Bullet and Target”—he sang off key; no one minded. He tuned his guitar mid-song; no one minded. Chock it up to his charm—his, “This bong is filled with Al Green’s baptismal water” kind of charm. The bong is metaphorical.

Greenwood’s singing, however, was full of depth and character; gorgeously accessible. But any semblance of approachability was mitigated by an onstage persona which betrayed a cool indifference. He didn’t chat or meander off into the amorphous realm of song introductions; the only time he spoke to the crowd was when he introduced the band members. He rarely moved from his spot in front of the microphone. Yet, it was all somehow endearing. Greenwood was a bundle of tightly-wound contradictions; kind of like dreads themselves; dreads speak to us of, “I don’t care about my hair” … but, in order to cultivate them well, you have to really be involved in the details of your follicles. As an aside: wind can’t blow through dreads—it can, but you won’t see movement. Some onstage movement would’ve been nice.

Greenwood was present, at the same time that he was distant. He was remote, yet, intimately in proximity. He was intense, yet, drowsy; brooding but laid-back. After the show, he sprung himself over to the t-shirt table and joyfully, yet, quietly mingled with fans—signing autograph after autograph


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