I scored a ticket for this past week’s performance of Tobias Jesso Jr. at the Fillmore in San Francisco. He’s getting lots of attention for his debut album, Goon. The reviews I’ve come across for this album include such descriptions as “an indisputable triumph” or “Goon surpasses any suggestion of mediocrity by a significant margin.” With these types of accolades, I had high hopes that Tobias Jesso was going to impress me with his sophisticated musical chops. And lo and behold, he failed.
My impressions of Tobias were that he’s not a very advanced piano player. The majority of his songs are simple chord arrangements. I was expecting to witness piano talent the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John, etc…Instead, Tobias doesn’t do much heavy lifting at all on the keyboards. His songs are very simple in structure. He played all of his hits from Goon, like How Could You Babe and Without You. I’d also describe Tobias’s music as laced with a good dose of schmaltz. I was hoping that Tobias was going to rip it up on the keyboards and really take his songs to new levels of musicianship, where his band jams for 10 minutes or more on the majority of his tunes. But that was not the case. Tobias performed for a little over an hour and then called it a night. The sound mix was OK but I never felt his piano playing moved me.
He came on wearing a jacket that had the words, “San Francisco” spelled out on it. He loves the food on Valencia street but less so on Market street. Overall, Tobias “failed to launch” at the Fillmore and his performance leaves me wondering just how big Tobias will become. Is Tobias the next John Lennon? Billy Joel? Randy Newman? Elton John? No. Not unless he transforms himself and his piano chops into something more memorable. The level of talent just isn’t there. Yes, I know it’s those simple chord changes that will make some listeners swoon but that’s not enough for me. I like to see a musician who really knows their instrument, inside out and backwards. And I just don’t see that with Tobias. Yes, he can compose songs and you don’t need to write complex songs. They can be simple. But I like to be challenged, now and again. And Tobia’s songs don’t challenge you. More importantly, Tobias isn’t breaking any new musical ground. He could have come out smack dab in the 70’s and fit right into the music scene. I guess some will appreciate that because the 70’s did produce a great deal of good, quality pop music.
The audience loved Tobias but I frankly feel that San Francisco audiences are very forgiving to just about any entertainment and just clamor for it in general, even if it is sub par. I didn’t get the name of the opening act. It was a three-piece. The women vocalist was losing her voice midway through the set. But the fans ate her up along with the band.