I really liked Nano Whitman's EP, enough that I probably would have liked him plenty playing as a solo artist. However, Friday's gig was the pianist/guitarist/songwriter's first with a full band in some time, and that made it a real treat. Rare indeed is the songwriter who feeds off the energy of his partners on stage which such grace and giving spirit. Whitman's band played some pretty obvious covers, but not as a showcase for the leader, but rather as a chance for his talented harmony singer to step out a few times. Instead of a contemptuous star submitting an accepted classic for audience approval, the Whitman band's "Hallelujah" and "Whiter Shade of Pale" sounded like close friends sharing the power great songs can have together.
But it was the originals that I came for, and they're what ought to earn Whitman a wider audience. Songs like "28" have some very personal lyrics, blunt even, but it's a sign of Whitman's self-assurance that he performs them strongly, looking out into the crowd with his eyes open. The extra drive given by his bassist and (particularly) drummer Ed Miles gave the songs a minimalist, to-the-point approach that blew away the EP's more studied vibe. Whitman has a wonderful voice, but one that's best suited to a quiet backing so he doesn't need to strain to be heard. His rhythm section grasped this and performed in a really solid but restrained style which left them the ability to pop up for emphasis when necessary and kept every word of Whitman's intelligently written tunes audible.
The best thing about the show and the performer is the spirit of community Whitman engenders seemingly everywhere he goes. The more people on stage, the more energy and happiness seemed to exude from the bandleader. For his last song, members of other bands on the bill came up to add vocals, guitar, and harmonica and Whitman was positively glowing as he hooted and stomped. Indeed, what good is the best song in the world if there's no one with whom to share it?