In Long Beach, there are two kinds of concerts: the ones you pay for and go to a music venue to see, and free ones that occur in non-traditional spaces, like houses and art galleries. Last Friday night, however, Long Beach native son Rocco DeLuca played the first of four residency shows that was an exciting blend of the two, performing an intimate hour-and-a-half-long set at a ticketed event, which occurred in the living room of a massive historic Craftsman.
I had no idea what to expect from a formally structured event taking place in someone's house, but after finding the address to the undisclosed location (which you receive only after ticket payment is secured), I was gracefully led into the backyard by hand-drawn arrows on the front door, a driveway lined by hurricane-swaddled candles and a red flood light that illuminated the end of the walk, where check-in occurred.
In the back, other attendees were milling around, sipping on craft beer and having hushed conversations in what could only be described as the most respectful house party in city history. The host had even graciously decorated the backyard with candles, tables, chairs and a comfy cabana where pre-show relaxation couldn't help but put you in the mood for the majesty that awaited inside the sprawling, historic home.
Once DeLuca was ready, the group of about 20 concertgoers and friends were led through the kitchen, the dining-room-turned-merch-booth and finally into a cleared-out, rectangular living room that was about the size of two big bedrooms. On one end, in front of a covered floor-to-ceiling window, sat DeLuca, poised with a lap steel guitar, and drummer Jonathan Wright, who only had a single bass drum with which to work.
People took their seats on the hardwood floor, on the few available pillows, on the couch (which had been pushed to the side), or against the back wall in two plush mid-century armchairs. And then, as if the notes were being conjured out of graves in abandoned cemeteries, the music began.
Slide in hand, DeLuca spent the next 90 minutes grabbing at his strings and dragging the metal over the frets, creating haunting, grassy chords that started loud and then floated around the room until they lost momentum and faded into the walls. Though part of the performance seemed like an improvisational set of quietly intense Southern-inspired rhythms and blues, DeLuca occasionally launched into song, opening his mouth just enough to let a powerful voice emerge as he ran through experimental versions of traditional bible hymns and tracks from his solo albums, including 2012's similarly themed Drugs and Hymns.
DeLuca has played with many guitar legends over the years (from John Lee Hooker to Johnny Cash to Slash), and the most common description of his work is that he is "driven by his own heart." Nowhere was this statement more true than in that Long Beach living room, where DeLuca's fragile, soulful vocals seemed to be pulled directly from inside his chest. Occasionally while singing–which he did in the same tempered, sparse way as he played guitar–DeLuca would involuntarily close his eyes, lean back and grab at his heart with a wavering hand, letting the resulting wails reverberate off the silence between words.
For anyone who only knew of DeLuca from his brush with fame as the frontman for indie-blues band Rocco DeLuca and The Burden, this up-close-and-personal show of breathtaking, raw, (and sans resonator guitar) solo sparseness probably opened up an entirely new dimension. But for those who have been following the local musician's independent career since, it was just another statement of the singer-songwriter's obvious talent.
Back in Southern California after months on the road, DeLuca is promoting his latest release, a self-titled masterpiece of semi-upbeat songs produced by Daniel Lanois and made in collaboration with many of his musician friends. His residency of Long Beach living room shows will continue for the next three Friday nights, and this week is said to feature a special guest as secret as the concert location itself.
For more information on Rocco DeLuca's upcoming Long Beach shows and to purchase tickets, visit roccodeluca.brownpapertickets.com
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