NEWTOWN SQUARE–A night at Burlap and Bean usually consists of an opener and a headliner. But on Saturday, there was an exception. The bill read John Grecia Band with Drew Nielands, but within a few songs of Nielands' set, John Grecia and drummer Mike Windish joined their former bandmate . The chemistry between the musicians was as if Nielands never left.
Nielands' husky voice pairs well with the rhythmic thumping and strumming of his guitar. His smooth voice melts over the quick lyrics of his songs like Bruce Springsteen or Johnny Cash. The songs he performed solo had great charisma and energy, but with the addition of Grecia's slinky piano and Windish keeping beat, the opener's set became as strong as some headliner's finales.
Watching Grecia on the keyboard is like watching Elton John sans sequins and feathers. There is a raw energy that he is able to maintain through upbeat or emotional songs. He knows just the right tone to keep the audience in tune with how he feels about performing.
As Grecia looked out at the packed house Saturday night he described playing the venue as an interwoven circle of friends and family. Each time he came on stage, Grecia said it felt like an odd version of "This is Your Life," he joked.
The band's sound is a potpourri of reggae, folk, rock and blues, but it ties together with a classical orchestration of perfectly distinct sounds.
"I always thought that we kind of benefited by the difference in style, its a pretty big palette of stuff happening when we play live," explained Grecia.
Along with great showmanship behind the piano, Grecia is a classically trained musician who has received his Masters degree from West Chester University. His writing style comes across very traditional, viewing writing his band's music similar to composing. Grecia will give his band members a song and then each member will add their own "seasoning."
"Everything needs to have a purpose. It's never just going from two chords and trying to find a melody over it. There's always some compositional idea," said Grecia. "I write in a pop realm, but I always try to put something in there that is a little challenging or a little more intricate than what is normal pop music, mixed meter, interesting key changes, maybe something Brahms did. Tipping the hat to the things I know, but I try to make them not so abstract."
The most emotional moment of the show was a series of songs Grecia performed as a tribute to his songwriting partner who passed away last December. When they worked on a song together Williams would provide lyrics and then Grecia would compose the music, which is the opposite of what Grecia does with his own music.
The former High School writing teacher had a great creative connection with Grecia and even in the hospital, Williams wrote Grecia one last lyric. On Saturday evening, Grecia powerfully performed the song with Williams' wife in the audience.
"Selfishly you want more time to write more songs together," he told the crowd. Grecia has a collection of 100 songs the two collaborated on and his next album will be composed of their work together.
For the final few songs, Grecia invited Nielands back on stage. Grecia congratulated Nielands on his new album, and reminded the crowd about their upcoming one.
"We're all gonna have an album to sell. It's a brand new day," said Grecia.
The last songs were loud, rambunctious, and foot stomping. It ended on a strong note for a great night.