G. Love Charms With Songs, Stories, Surprises at Annual Nardi’s Show
Hip-hop blues musician G. Love says that a solo acoustic show is like an “after-school special. You just don’t know what's gonna happen.” Though he’s ready for anything at these shows, G. Love has a blueprint for success. “You wanna start out telling a story or two and by the end of the show there’s this explosive moment where everyone is just doing their own thing.” It is safe to say that G. Love brought this playbook with him to Nardi’s Tavern in Haven Beach last Thursday.
He had four guitars with him on stage, so that he could choose from many different kinds of sounds. (“That’s one nice thing about being a professional musician,” he says. “Studios send you free guitars.”) He wore a harmonica around his neck, a bucket hat and a cabana shirt with the top three buttons undone. He was at ease, and seemed as eager as anyone in the packed crowd to find out what kind of show it would be.
Right off the bat, G. Love was telling stories that endeared him to the specific audience that would be at a South Jersey shore bar like Nardi’s the Thursday before Independence Day. He opened with the song “Shooting Hoops,” which makes explicit reference to both Seger Park on Lombard Street in Philadelphia and the Old Pine Community Center in the same neighborhood. Though G. Love certainly plays venues where his affiliation with the Philadelphia 76ers would be controversial, at Nardi’s the crowd responded gleefully to the song’s reference to76ers Hall of Fame forward Dr. J.
G. Love knows our area well. He is from Philadelphia and grew up spending his summers in Avalon. He says he wrote many of his songs on the front porches of beach houses there. Many of these songs – and not just the ones about basketball – have a bouncy, beach vibe to them. He is friends with former professional surfer and soft-rock legend Jack Johnson, and the two recorded the hit song “Rainbows” together after G Love woke up on a porch one morning and, just as the song says, saw a rainbow in the sky.
Despite the company he keeps, it would be incorrect to refer to G. Love’s style as “soft rock.” His guitar riffs are too bluesy, and he definitely spits his lyrics like a rapper rather than cooing them like a soft rocker. This combination of blues and hip-hop is an idiosyncrasy emblematic of someone who grew up in the Philadelphia area in the 1980s. G. Love cites the folk and blues legacy in Philly (the town where blues legend Skip James is buried) as well as the fact that he and his friends “were kids in the ’80s listening to Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, Tribe and all that on Lady B’s Street Beat (a hip-hop radio show on Power 99FM) every Friday Night” as influences.
On the Nardi’s stage, G. Love told the crowd “on my way down here, I stopped at Wawa” – he knew to stop for an applause for Wawa – “and a lady said to me, ‘you look like a musician.’ I said yes I am. She asked, ‘what kind of music do you play?’ I said I play the hip-hop blues. She said ‘I love that kind of music!’ I said, ‘really?’ ’Cause I’m the only one playing it.”
G. Love has a way of speaking on stage that is itself very musical. When he tells stories like these, people in the crowd do not stop nodding their heads to the beat, even though he is speaking in prose. After the story about the woman in Wawa, G. Love went right into a song that seemed to explain what he meant by “hip-hop blues.”
At another point G. Love wished the crowd a happy 4th of July, saying, “Where’d y’all rather be than right here on the Fourth? Well,” he started mumbling dramatically for effect, “Aruba, Bermuda, Hawaii maybe,” then, as he hit the first note of his most popular song, “My Baby’s Got Sauce,” he said emphatically, “but nobody’s got sauce like the Jersey Shore.”
Over the course of the last 10 minutes of his set, G. Love was joined on stage by a friend who also wore a cabana T-shirt. The two buddies did a dueling harmonica jam on stage. This jam started with each playing a slight variation on a classic harmonica riff. Eventually the friends had strayed so far from the original riff into their own style that they were no longer dueling but dueting. About 20 women in the crowd also rushed onto the small Nardi’s stage to dance alongside G. Love. They followed the lead of two rather bold women in black dresses.
By the time he strummed his last note and called out “thank you, Nardi’s, I’ll see you next year!” there was no discernible difference between stage and crowd. The crowd had joined the musician on stage, a development that seemed to come as a pleasant surprise to G. Love.
— Tim Hone