Story by Matt Koelling
Intimacy, in any form, can be tricky business. When there’s a genuine connection, it can be powerfully beautiful. When there’s not, it can be painfully awkward. There are few things more intimate than an artist, armed with only their voice and instrument of choice, singing songs they’ve written for a crowd of people they don’t know. Last night the crowd at Ocean City Music Pier, its Monday night headliner Citizen Cope, and opener Mayaeni, all took that precarious plunge together. In what the promotional flyer billed as “Citizen Cope: An Intimate Solo Acoustic Listening Experience”, the performers and the patrons each placed their bets on intimacy making things better.
The first to test this theory was Detroit, Michigan singer-songwriter Mayaeni, daughter of a Sierra Leone mother and Jewish father, recently signed to Jay-Z’s RocNation label. Mayaeni’s weapon of choice was a Fender Stratocaster. Not exactly an “acoustic” instrument but no one in the audience seemed to mind. She won over an unfamiliar audience with natural charm, a big voice and adeptness on her instrument in no time. The abbreviated set took a surprising amount of turns in 20 minutes of stage time, including a tease of Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” appropriately during a self-penned tune called “Shooter”. She saved her best for last, a song she co-wrote with Macy Gray entitled “Million N One”. While introducing the song, she told a brief story about the song’s co-creator and its genesis, which occurred during a late night wine-drinking session. She then broke into a dead-on Macy Gray impression, which showed she may have a future in acting if for any reason the music thing doesn’t pan out. We certainly won’t be betting against Mayaeni from here on out, traveling either route.
Shortly after 8 PM, came time for the true show-and-prove session that the crowd had paid to see. Armed with just his trusted J-45 Gibson acoustic guitar, tuned openly, Clarence Greenwood aka Citizen Cope took the stage and went straight to work. Without introduction or pre-song greeting launching into the title cut of his last album, “One Lovely Day”, letting his music speak for itself. The Ocean City Music Pier crowd seemed to appreciate his get-down-to-business approach.
By the third song, “Healing Hands”, many began augmenting Cope’s acoustic guitar with backing percussion via pairs of clapping hands. As the song finished to the most rousing reaction of the set thus far, Citizen Cope chose to make his first off-script observation of the evening: “Got some gnats up here coming around me, think I’m gonna catch one in my mouth soon”. Sharing is caring. Luckily, the night would conclude without Mr. Greenwood actually biting down on any bugs. Soon the only things flying around were requests from an audience now suitably comfortable with telling Cope what they wanted to hear in between songs.
After a frenzy of loud vocalized requests, prior to Cope launching into “Pablo Picasso” from his second album The Clarence Greenwood Recordings, a male voice in the audience called out “Welcome to Jersey!”. “Thank You” was Cope’s brief but roundly appreciated response.
The gratitude expressed during this Mutual Admiration Society didn’t stop there. After he got done working up a lather on “Bullet and a Target”, off the same album, Cope deadpanned: “Thank you so much, love the handclap accompaniment, you’ll each get a check from the Union for that later”.
By the time he introduced the fan favorite “Let The Drummer Kick”, from his debut self-titled album, Cope was offering explanation for a break from the intimacy. “This next one isn’t exactly acoustic but I know a lot of you wanted to hear it, so just pretend there’s a band back here”. With that, Citizen Cope bolstered the acoustic guitar/vocal soundscape for the first and only time of the evening, with the song’s original piano-loop/drum-kick backing track. The results showed that while Clarence Greenwood could certainly hold a crowd in rapt fashion on guitar and voice alone, aided by a beat he could get them out of their seat. Soon the center aisle was filling up with a volunteer dance team, mostly female. Meanwhile the Music Pier security staff now settled into the role of kindly chaperone, there to make sure things didn’t get out of hand.
Once “Let The Drummer Kick” ended, the audience had reached a fever pitch.
“I wanna have your babies!” an unidentified woman called out loudly enough for anyone in the theater to hear. The comment instantly drew echoing agreement and a chorus of clapping co-signs.
When crowd reaction from that comment died down, a male voice in the audience brought it right back by mock-shouting out in an impressed tone, “I wanna have your babies too”.
Before beginning the next song, a quietly chuckling Citizen Cope felt compelled to cut short further pledges of procreation by simply shaking his head, then with Steven Wright-levels of monotone comedic timing, replying: “That’s a lot of child support”.
The homestretch of the show kicked into its final gear from there. Before closing the set with his biggest hit, “Sideways”, Cope welcomed Mayaeni back out onstage with her Stratocaster to fill the role Carlos Santana originally occupied on the studio recording of “Son’s Gonna Rise”. She did so admirably. Catching up to her post-show in between hugs and heartfelt exchanges with new fans at the merch table, we joked about Carlos Santana being some pretty big shoes to fill. “I know, right?!?” she replied laughing before pausing to add with a mischievous smile, “but…he’s also not a woman”.
Recalling the pair of baby-boarding offers made from the crowd while Citizen Cope was onstage, Mayaeni’s statement was undeniably true. Meanwhile only one side could actually, metaphorically or literally, deliver on that deal.
Shortly thereafter as if on cue, Jenna Callender of Linwood came strolling out of the Ocean City Music Pier’s doors with a baby in her belly plus three of her best girlfriends in tow. Jenna was donning a pregnant glow, while sporting the ear-to-ear smile of someone who’d just seen a great show. It had been her fifth time seeing Citizen Cope onstage. She’d been excited to catch Cope at the OC Music Pier since the day it was announced he’d be making his debut appearance here.
“I love him. This venue’s right around the corner from me. And I’m pregnant so it doesn’t matter to me that they don’t serve drinks here”, Callender joked.
Her friend Rosie Sher of Atlantic City chimed in “well if we’re being honest, I also wouldn’t mind if they did” which got all four women laughing after she said it.
It was the fifth time for Jenna, first time for her friend Alyssa Hemberger from Absecon. Alyssa came along to see what all the fuss was about and after seeing the show declared, without any hesitation, “I’d go see him again anytime”.
The fourth member of their party, Megan McMahon of Smithville, enjoyed the union of the venue with the stripped-down show, because she felt they combined for a “nice, chill, laid-back vibe”.
Intimacy can be tricky. With the wrong combination, it can even occasionally bring a bit of strife. But on a good night, with the right accompaniment, it can also create life.
Set List: Mayaeni: Break Me,Shooter, Heart, Million N One
Citizen Cope: One Lovely Day, DFW, Healing Hands, Lifeline, Every Waking Moment, Back Together, Pablo Picasso, Bullet and a Target, D’Artagnan’s Theme, If There’s Love, Salvation, Let The Drummer Kick, Hurricane Waters, Son’s Gonna Rise (Mayaeni on electric guitar), Sideways Encore: Keep Askin’, Penitentiary, 107 Degrees, A Brother Named Lee, Holdin’ On.