Music is nothing if not an emotional medium. The power of song lay less in the intricacy of its instrumentation or complexity of its lyricism than in its ability to tap into something deeper, whether forging new associations or drudging seemingly lost memories back to the surface of the self.
It didn’t matter, then, that Citizen Cope had gone some seven years without releasing a new album. His fans showed up all the same—and stood dutifully through a 45-minute delay—for a signature, haunting set at The Novo in downtown Los Angeles on the final Thursday of March.
Through a winding, 18-song set, the artist born as Clarence Greenwood softly serenaded his supporters with the same earnestness that’s helped his catalog stand the test of time. The 50-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee put his latest release, Heroin and Helicopters, on prominent display—and not just with the album cover standing up amid the backing band. He put his poetic proclivities in the spotlight for “Duck Confit,” rolled right into the wavy wokeness of “Justice”, softly bared his soul during “Yella” and closed out the night with an encore-ending solo stroll through “Sally Walks”.
By and large, though, Citizen Cope and his band did their part to hit (however gently) on the nostalgia that brought so many in the audience to L.A. Live. From opening with “Let the Drummer Kick” and kicking it back to the eponymous debut LP for “Mistaken I.D.” and “Salvation”, to pleasing the crowd with most of The Clarence Greenwood Recordings—most notably, the triple-header of “Son’s Gonna Rise”, “Sideways”, and “Pablo Picasso” toward the end of the main set—the group did its part to put the entire venue in a time machine back to the 2000s.
In return, the attendees seemed to surprise Clarence and company with a touching devotion to their timeless tunes. As Citizen Cope was about to embark on his own recitation of “Sideways”, he was just about drowned out by a chorus of “You know it ain’t easy…” But rather than forge ahead, he let the fans proceed with their own rendition of the opening stanza and chorus, soaking in every word with what appeared to be an unexpected appreciation.
It’s those bursts of brightness, and the attendant effects of facial emotion, that have helped Citizen Cope’s singular sound endure. In the 17 years since the release of his self-titled debut album, Clarence has fashioned a formidable musical career out of plain-spoken poetry and moody melodies that have forged simple but powerful associations in fans spanning generations.
His success and endurance stand as a testament to the notion that music doesn’t have to be complicated to be evocative. Specific emotions and vibes can be concocted as much out of presentation and presence as by marauding melodies and lilting lyrics.
All of which is to say, as far as Citizen Cope is concerned, simpler can be better when the aim is to establish a deep tone and a sonic intimacy all its own.
For a list of Citizen Cope’s upcoming tour dates, head here.