The measure of a true entertainer is the ability to captivate an audience armed with only a guitar and a microphone. Charlie Mars pulled off the often-difficult trick with his fine show at City Winery in Nashville, Saturday night (May 6), mixing highly-detailed and observant songs with raconteur-style storytelling and offbeat humor.
The Mississippi-born Mars, by way of Oxford, has led what could be termed an interesting life, which would be understating things a bit. He’s gone from being broke and busted, sleeping on fellow songwriters’ couches, to opening for major acts like the Dixie Chicks. All of his myriad experiences are woven into his stage banter, which holds audiences spellbound, waiting for what comes next. Mars shared the humorous story behind “You and Me,” from his just-released new album Beach Town, and had the house rolling with his recollection of opening for Hanson on the band’s stint in Jamaica. “They played to about 7,000 girls . . . and no guys,” Mars noted with a pleased smile. That led into one of Mars’ breakthrough hits, “The Money.” Mars also related the story of how he came to tour with the Dixie Chicks, a gig that apparently helped him settle some gnawing financial debt.
Mars played several tunes from Beach Town, including the title track (featuring the Captain Larry character), “She Ain’t Coming Back” and “Benji Don’t Wanna,” a song punctuated by the key lines, Benji don’t wanna stay / Because they don’t have beer. For Beach Town, Mars collaborated with a number of Nashville-based writers, James Slater and Jeff Cohen among them. But the selections are all true to Mars’ sly, earthy persona, and he delivers them with a fervent commitment and attitude.
Kudos are also in order for opening act Leigh Nash, a perfect complement to Mars (they should consider touring together, if they haven’t already). Sporting a multi-colored dress to go with her bright red hair, the former Sixpence None the Richer vocalist nailed “Never Again Every Time,” “Somebody’s Yesterday” and others in a spirited set that established the right mood.
Mars was certainly the star of the evening, commanding the stage by himself. He’s a throwback to the true troubadour, a guy who knows how to entertain a club crowd because he’s had plenty of practice. Catch him whenever possible.