By Chris M. Junior
Artists with deep catalogs typically get prime stage time at Bob’s Birthday Bash, the centerpiece of the Light of Day Foundation’s long-running benefit concert series that’s held in New Jersey and elsewhere.
Go back to any year since 2010, when for its 10th anniversary Light of Day moved its main schedule of events to January, and you’ll find recognizable acts with recordings galore that have headlined and/or played lengthy sets. The impressive list includes Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love, Goo Goo Dolls frontman Johnny Rzeznik and New Jersey’s own Smithereens.
Oh yeah, and more often than not, an unbilled Bruce Springsteen has hit the stage, performing with the likes of LOD regulars Jesse Malin, Willie Nile and Joe Grushecky.
For the second consecutive year, Springsteen was a no-show for Bob’s Birthday Bash, named in honor of Bob Benjamin, who founded LOD to raise money to fight Parkinson’s disease and other mobility disorders. So the job of transitioning to the show-ending all-star jam on Jan. 14 at the Paramount Theatre went to one of the musicians who complements Springsteen’s core E Street Band onstage.
Honoring Uncle Clarence
Playing saxophone as well as acoustic guitar, headliner Jake Clemons led his band through a set featuring songs from his first full-length album, “Fear & Love,” released the previous day. (“Move On,” which closes the 11-song collection, was among the highlights.) Clemons spoke with confidence and humor between songs, and he looked comfortable moving around the stage. Upon concluding his main set, Clemons (joined by some of the show’s other performers) stood at the lip of the stage, and without any amplification, sang a touching ballad-style version of “You’re a Friend of Mine,” which was a Top 20 hit in the mid-1980s for his late uncle Clarence (and also featured Jackson Browne).
Earlier in the show, Malin played a set that included tracks from his “New York Before the War” album and a cover of The Clash’s “Rudie Can’t Fail.” Nile also mixed recent original material (“Trouble Down in Diamond Town,” from 2016’s “World War Willie”) and a choice cover (a lengthy version of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”).
Other Bob’s Birthday Bash acts included Grushecky, James Maddock, Joe D’Urso, Chuck Prophet and Jeffrey Gaines.