Gregory Page is back from Australia, where he toured on his own, then hooked up with Steve Poltz to re-form the Rugburns Down Under. Page being the rugburn — or “Sideburn,” as he termed it. “Always a bridesmaid,” he said. I owed Page from 17 years ago when he, Poltz, and Jewel opened for Dylan at a concert at the Embarcadero. I was stuck in the back and could not see that Page wasn’t Robert Driscoll (another sideburn of Poltz’s at the time), and so that’s what I called him in a review of the show.
Page and I also played in the same band at different times: Jose Sinatra and the Troy Dante Inferno. Page replaced me on bass after my tenure of some years, played all the wrong parts, but that’s all right. His forte is composition and guitars with more than four strings as evidenced by his first of an indefinite string of Saturday-night shows at Café Libertalia (aka Java Joe’s, Thursday through Sunday nights), at 3834 Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest, near the corner of University Avenue.
For 90 minutes, beginning with an engaging and sometimes look-Ma, handless panache on the omnichord, the singer-songwriter entertained about as thoroughly as one could ask for. If you, as you may, think that Page needs no more local promotion, you could be right about the local part. It is wider promotion that is needed here. Who else would you have in mind for a tastefully considered and original Louis Armstrong pastiche, a Noel Coward finale live-voiced over an original recording of “I’ll See You Again” (with, I assume, a digitally eighty-sixed Coward), and the same deal with Ted Lewis’s summer of 1930 number-two hit record, “On the Sunny Side of the Street”?
And if you’re among the handful who thought Page’s previous originals, say, off the Love Made Me Drunk CD, were a tad depressing, youshuddabeenthere for his heartfelt and life-affirmative delivery of “Everyone’s Happy.” Even I momentarily forgot that everything sucks. With his presentation of both recent and brand-new “stuff I haven’t yet attached myself to, should I?”, he asked the 30 or so audience members. Like “Diamonds and Rocks,” “I Don’t Like You (Anymore),” and “Ocean of Memories” (sung with Jason Mraz on the CD), complete with a freaking great Travis-picking interlude in one of them (I forgot which) re-announcing Page’s presence in town, a lyrical and moving wake-up call to one of San Diego’s unplumbed cultural resources.
All these songs (not the Lewis or Coward) are included on Page’s 2009 CD Bird in a Cage. For the newer tunes, he is in the process of financing studio time.
Page will engage the audience with intersong patter, such as his imitation of himself as a preadolescent Londoner prancing around in his Middlesex bedroom in his underwear to Queen records and speaking with an accent like the Geico lizard on the telly. During this reminiscence, maintaining this fully retrieved accent, he ended all his sentences with questions, didn’t he? He even told a conventional joke. “What does Kenny G. say when he gets in an elevator? This place rocks!”
“I write songs for story,” he told us, the audience, “I write songs for love, and…I write for revenge.” He mentioned listening to Louis Armstrong recently, as he sort of cleared his 1963 Montgomery Ward hollowbody, single cutaway guitar’s throat before launching into “Promise of a Dream.” He added, “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.”
At a deuce table on Fifth Avenue’s sidewalk, Page told me about his London childhood. Born in England, he arrived here in 1976 in North Park, near Gregory Street, no less. “They knew I was coming, my grandfather said, and named it after me.” His mother had a rock career with the Beat Chicks, who opened for the Beatles on a European tour. One stop on the tour was a bullfight arena in Spain where, Page told me, Paul McCartney covered the infant Page’s eyes during the slaughtering coup delivered by the matador. “Why couldn’t it have been John Lennon though?” Page asked no one in particular on Fifth Avenue. “But would he have covered my eyes? Maybe not, but life would have been so different.
“The jazzy stuff is all new,” Page continued. Echoes of Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass are evidenced in this stuff, something previously unnoted, at least by me, on CDs such as Love Made Me Drunk, Sleeping Dogs, the Mraz-produced Knife in My Chest, Unhappy Hour, or his first, The Romantic Adventures of Harry.
Not to write a conventional review disguised as a column, and not to be didactic or promotional in any way, but if you don’t like Page’s stuff, there’s something wrong with you.