In many ways “5 Songs,” Jack Gallagher’s new show at B Street Theatre, represents the best of Gallagher in the best format to see him.
His five previous one-man shows are essentially long-form autobiographical storytelling with occasional stand-up comedy sidebars. Here Gallagher breaks up the format into smaller segments as he riffs on songs that have meaning to him, telling stories about the times and places the music and lyrics take him back to.
Gallagher is not a top-40-music-of-the-moment dilettante, even though he does appreciate a good pop song.
The walls of the theater are stenciled with titles of songs and their performers (Meg McGuigan created the immersive scenic design). The list is democratic and varied. There are well-known acts such as the Beatles, Sting, the Beach Boys, and Bonnie Raitt, though the songs associated with them aren’t necessarily well-known hits.
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There are also outliers such as “Golden Age” by TV On the Radio, “September Gurls” by Alex Chilton’s Big Star and “Keep It Warm” by Flo and Eddie. Gallagher really loves pop music, and he’s not kidding around about it.
For the show, he has nine song titles on a big board. He asks the audience to help him whittle the list down to the five that will constitute the evening’s material – a concept that Gallagher has refined from his 2013 show “Complete and Unfinished,” where he brainstormed and organized ideas with the audience.
It was a free-for-all at a recent performance of “Songs,” as Gallagher tried to poll the audience by sections of the theater. He has such a casual familiarity in Sacramento and at B Street that audience members offered production notes instead of song selections. Once he had the five, he decided how to order them and took off from there.
Onstage with Gallagher is guitarist-composer Tommy Dunbar, who offers brief accompaniment, dropping in the melodies of the various tunes and vocal harmonies. Dunbar opened the second act performing his original tune “Freeway Free for All.”
As with Gallagher’s previous one-man plays, the stories associated with the songs feature poignant, sentimental, funny and subtle social observations. Gallagher has always been clear-eyed and unromantic about the Northeastern working-class milieu he grew up in and escaped. He’s as American Irish Catholic as they come, and before engaging the audience, he entered to an Al Jolson recording of a song called “Little Pal.”
He used the song to set the template of the performance, explaining it was song his father used to sing to him as child. It always made him cry, which he liked, so he often requested it from his father.
The songs/stories in this performance mainly dealt with Gallagher’s youth and teenage years and seemed to fill in a time gap that his other shows haven’t dealt with as much. “What Does It Take (to Win Your Love),” by Jr. Walker & the All Stars, takes him back to when he was 14 years old, working the summer bagging block ice. It was his first job and he learned the things you learn from older boys.
“Danny Boy,” the classic Irish ballad, featured a sweet, sad reminiscence of his mother, whom he observed he had not mentioned much in his previous work. “King of the Road” was about summer and funky road trips and vacations his family would take.
The poetry of Gallagher in this show is in his understanding the value of these memories, and the acknowledgment of how much life has gone before him – and how much is left.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.
What: A show based on the comedian’s love of pop music
When: Continues 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays. Through March 1.
Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
Cost: $23-$35, $5 student rush
Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with one intermission
Information: (916) 443-5300; www.bstreettheatre.org