Melancholy music and more

Tim Hockenberry, still near the beginning of his Monday night residency in the new Rrazz Room in San Francisco’s Nikko Hotel, is that rare kind of performer whose style is difficult to define — in a good way.

A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Hockenberry has been known to appear in a cabaret setting, but his current show-tuneless act really doesn’t fit that bill.

On April 14, to an audience that included Bonnie Riatt and other hometown friends, the Mill Valley-based musician and his superb band — guitarist Gowain Matthews, bassist Terry Miller and drummer Vince Littleton — played a set that veered from ballads to folk to pop to jazz. Many of the tunes leaned on the sad side.

The first thing a listener thinks upon hearing him sing is Tom Waits. Hockenberry’s distinctive gruff vocal, sometimes punctuated by howling, is clearly reminiscent of Waits, or Joe Cocker. His tone gives each song an appealing urgency and depth, or a hard-to-resist shade of melancholy.

Yet his material, particularly his original tunes, is far from avant-garde. His melodic, keyboard-driven songs — “Back in Your Arms,” “The Time by Me,” “She Tried to Be,” “The One I Love” — could be sung by Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Michael McDonald or James Blunt.

In concert, they come off as effectively as covers of tunes by the likes of Bob Dylan (Hockenberry has made a CD titled “Mostly Dylan” with Tom Corwin) and Bruce Springsteen.

Hockenberry accompanied himself on electric piano for most of the show, although he picked up a trombone for a particularly cookin’ version of “Unchain My Heart” and a funky “Built for Comfort.”

Other insightful, emotional covers included the Beatles’ “Girl,” Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” Springsteen’s “JerseyGirl” and, not surprisingly, Waits’ “Closing Time” and “Heart of Saturday Night.”

Throughout the show, the mood was casual and relaxed, though heated. Hockenberry wiped his head with a towel between tunes and called out to pals in the crowd. Singer Phillip Claypool came to the stage for a number; Matthews, who also played mandolin, nicely got to show off his virtuosity on electric and acoustic guitar.

Hockenberry’s new recording, “Back in Your Arms” on About Records, is slated for release in June. If you’re a fan of thoughtful singer-songwriters, see this show, then look forward to picking it up.

lkatz@examiner.com

IF YOU GO

Tim Hockenberry and Friends

Where: Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Mondays; closes June 16

Tickets: $25

Contact: (866) 468-3399 or www.therrazzroom.com

Just Posted

HUD secretary calls for increased deregulation after tour of Potrero Hill public housing

Carson calls for greater ‘cooperation’ between local, federal officials but offers no additional funds

Supervisors move to halt closure of long-term mental health beds

Emergency resolution would put patient relocations on hold while officials wrangle over facility

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence may pull out of Folsom Street Fair

San Francisco’s iconic Folsom Street Fair could soon see a high-profile departure:… Continue reading

SF to form task force to address drug dealing in Tenderloin, SoMa

As the supervisor of the Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhood, Matt Haney said… Continue reading

Punch Line celebrates with ‘New Lease on Laughs’

Savvy Nato Green and friends save comedy club from eviction

Most Read