In a show billed as “An Intimate Solo / Acoustic Performance,” singer-songwriter Clarence Greenwood, who goes by the stage name Citizen Cope, played an unaccompanied set of over two dozen songs at the Newport Music Hall Sunday night.
There was no opening act, and Greenwood started playing at 8:15 p.m.
The concert was stripped down and devoid of any frills. An electric guitar resting on a tripod, a small beige amplifier and a red leather stool were all set up in advance. But Citizen Cope didn’t utilize these items at all, instead opting to rely only on his acoustic guitar and a microphone to play the entire set.
With song themes ranging from love and heartbreak to crime and social awareness, Greenwood employed simply strummed riffs, minor chords and smoky blues vocals to entertain the audience.
The direct, bare-bones approach to performing his music suited Greenwood’s on-stage personality, and he maintained a calm, unassuming disposition throughout the show.
Greenwood’s willingness to avoid pageantry and let his soulful work stand for itself was one of the show’s strengths.
He didn’t greet the crowd or introduce himself but dove right into the first song after walking out into the spotlight with zero fanfare.
“Salvation” deals with a violent storyline of infidelity and a lover’s quarrel, and Greenwood slowly shook his head while singing it. His inflection called to mind the strained passion of Ray LaMontagne, and the song’s crescendo of the narrator begging the antagonist to “put the gun down” set the tone early for an enjoyable show.
Addressing the crowd only after completing three numbers, Greenwood said, “Thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure and thrill to be here tonight, so thank you for coming out.”
Wearing all black, dirty work boots and dreadlocks tied behind his head in his trademark topknot, Greenwood played his songs humbly and frequently tapped his hand to his heart in acknowledgement of the crowd’s applause.
His sad songs were devastating, and his love songs were warm and heartfelt. Greenwood pulled off romantic numbers without needing to wallow in sap.
In “If There’s Love,” Greenwood gave one of his best efforts of the night. His simple playing was contrasted with emotionally genuine singing, lending credence to the notion that the song had to have been written for a true love of his.
“Every Waking Moment” channeled influences of Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel while somehow managing to infuse blues and R&B into the mix.
Greenwood started one of his more famous tunes, “Bullet and a Target,” by leading the audience in a clap. In “Pablo Picasso,” whose opening chords were met by whoops and cheers from the crowd, he used an abrupt closing strum to punctuate the song effectively.
“One Lovely Day,” a song off Citizen Cope’s 2012 record, was a happy and whimsical tune that showed the artist’s versatility.
One of the highlight performances of the evening came during “D’Artagnan’s Theme,” when Greenwood allowed the audience to sing the refrain. It was the type of song that didn’t get old and could have been extended live. He slowed down the tempo and toyed with the crowd towards the end, leaving listeners guessing as to when he would choose to end it.
Smiling warmly afterwards, Greenwood clapped for the audience and complimented their participation.
“Sideways” was another popular selection. Fans sang the whole first verse aloud as Greenwood played wordlessly. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about,” he said upon the verse’s completion.
The finale of the show featured Citizen Cope’s most recognizable song, “Let The Drummer Kick.” The song has a catchy piano loop and a hip-hop beat, so it was a surprise to hear the backing music suddenly play over the PA after two hours of purely acoustic music. The audience had hands in the air, and one concertgoer danced with fluorescent lights on ropes in the pit.
Greenwood offered love and thanks to his enthusiastic fans before offering a Nixon-esque double peace sign and serenely exiting the stage.
The Newport was the perfect small venue for such a passionate show, and Greenwood made it clear that his relevance and talent are still intact more than 20 years after his debut.