Citizen Cope at Mill City Nights, 11/15/12

Citizen Cope at Mill City Nights, 11/15/12

Citizen Cope
Mill City Nights, Minneapolis
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Brooklyn-based Clarence Greenwood -- known largely by his moniker Citizen Cope -- took the stage at Mill City Nights last night with a small smile and very little ego, launching promptly into a set that lasted over two hours.

Cope has a strange legacy. Born in Memphis and raised in Texas, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C., the artist has cultivated a style of music that sounds like it comes from all of those places and somewhere else entirely -- the back of your head, the bottom of your heart. Some critics might call Cope's blend of blues, soul, reggae, and R&B "blues fusion," and while not inaccurate, it doesn't quite do Cope justice.

One Lovely Day, Cope's recently released sixth studio album (and the second since leaving major labels and starting his own Rainwater Recordings), is a soulful, funky work that highlights Cope's indomitable strengths as a songwriter and that voice of his. Cope has the kind of voice you want to wake up with, with a coarse sweetness and quiet confidence. Cope's second song last night was the album's title track, and his voice flew easily over acoustic rhythms with a bright warmth, as though he swallowed the sun.

Cope stood front and center on stage, always the focal point, but never much of a showman. His hair was pulled back in his trademark bun, and he was wearing some loosely laced heavy work boots -- overall, he looked a little like he was leaning into the reggae vibe of the night. There was no set list to be seen on stage -- Cope turned around after every song to call out the next to his band.

It's easy, in a concert setting, to lose some of the weight of Cope's gorgeous lyrics. Beyond the surface-level easy, pretty soul songs and the automatic sway of Cope's melodies, Cope's lyrical themes span darker topics. He can sound a little like Jack Johnson, but you'll (hopefully) never hear Cope singing about "banana pancakes." He's got his sights set a little higher than that -- from the stunning "Healing Hands" (off 2010's The Rainwater LP) to the country-folk gem "Dancer From Brazil."

After a lengthy 17-song set, Cope exited the stage for a break before the encore -- which really ended up being more of a second set, as Cope ran through acoustic renditions of crowd favorites. "Salvation" in particular was gripping, and a viable candidate to replace Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" as the song no one can hear enough. Even as the balcony emptied and the once nearly full house was slimming out, Cope remained on stage, eventually joined again by his band. In the end, Cope's night--which coasted through on mostly high notes and great songs that everyone wanted to hear--languished into a close.

Critic's bias: Having never seen Citizen Cope live, and without knowing too much of Cope's catalog, I still felt confident I would enjoy whatever happened. I wasn't wrong.

The crowd: Mixed variety of ages and types, lots and lots of couples. And one girl who had just turned 21. I know because her boyfriend kept screaming it to the stage, pleading to hear "Sideways."

Overheard in the crowd: "Just play all the good songs," someone next to me sighed as Cope first appeared on stage. He didn't disappoint--there was no misstep at all during the evening.

Setlist: As always, please leave corrections in the comments section.

Back Then
One Lovely Day
All Dressed Up
Peace River
Dancer From Brazil
If There's Love
Let The Drummer Kick It
My Way Home
Bullet And A Target
Hurricane Waters
Back Together
Every Waking Moment
Healing Hands
I Couldn't Explain Why
More Than It Seems
Sun's Gonna Rise
Pablo Picasso
D'Artagnan's Theme
Brother Lee

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