Chris Barron, Spin Doctors front man and solo artist, will perform a one-man show at Pittsburgh’s Club Cafe on Saturday evening, April 21. For the Jewish musician, whose prior acts include “Saturday Night Live,” Woodstock ’94, England’s Glastonbury festival and gracing the cover of Rolling Stone, the opportunity to appear in a venue that holds somewhere shy of 200 is a welcome turn.
“I love coming into rooms and just banging out some tunes on the acoustic and telling stories and being really close to the people, it’s a lot of fun,” the singer said.
Barron’s stripped down show will boast a sequential playlist from his newest album, “Angels and One Armed Jugglers,” followed by several Spin Doctors favorites. Latter ditties will likely include those that catapulted the rock band to worldwide acclaim more than two decades ago.
Between 1992 and 1994, Spin Doctors cracked Billboard’s mainstream top-40 four times, and the group’s hit “Two Princes” held the number one spot for seven weeks.
Nearly 25 years later, the band still tours with its original members — upcoming billings include co-headlining WhistleStop Weekend on May 4 in Huntsville, Ala., with Survivor, and a separate act two weeks later at Waukegan, Ill.’s Genesee Theater.
“I love the Spin Doctors, we’ve been together for such a long time and the whole thing with playing in a band is the camaraderie of it,” said Barron, 50.
What life as a solo artist affords though is the chance to venture back to the beginning and find new purpose in the profession.
“How I started out initially as a young person getting into music was in songwriting, and I immediately sort of got into the art form, if you will, of being a dude with a guitar and playing, getting a song across all by myself,” he said. And while the “power and glory of getting up on a stage with loud guitars and drums and base” provides a particular adrenaline rush, “right now I’m really into the solo thing, though not to the exclusion of the other.”
Since its 2017 release, “Angels and One Armed Jugglers” has been favorably received.
Rob Ross of Popdose.com called the album “thoughtful and melodic,” writing that “it has an emotion but doesn’t get fawning or weepy.”
Sylvannia Garutch of Elmore Magazine similarly considered it “an enjoyable collection of tunes that is communicative and visionary in its wide styles and settings.”
“I always tell my wife that if it ever gets out there what a decent writer I am, I could be famous,” Barron ironically remarked.
While the singer’s compositional talents are highly evidenced by his recent endeavor, less known are the largely unrecorded notes from his childhood.
Barron — born Christopher Barron Gross — grew up in “this great big Jewish family.” “It was a huge presence in my life,” he said. “My dad went to Hebrew school, all my aunts and uncles did, and then my grandparents — and I had a lot of great uncles and aunts — they would all practice and their parents had come over from Russia.”
Barron’s uncle, Lennie Sogoloff, owned the iconic Lennie’s on the Turnpike, a jazz club located on Route 1 in Peabody, Mass. During its run from the mid-’50s until 1972, Lennie’s on the Turnpike hosted such live acts as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and a then-unknown opener by the name of Jay Leno.
Apart from hearing top notch talent, patrons could enjoy “these big overstuffed sandwiches,” explained Barron. “You could get a roast beef sandwich and a ham sandwich, and my grandmother used to bake the roast beefs, and she used to bake the hams too.”
The musician’s kosher-keeping great-grandmother would often frequent the spot and ask her daughter whether the ham was baked on the same dish as the roast beef. Invoking the tone of his grandmother, Barron finished the tale: “‘I would say, ‘No mother.’ But then she would look at me and say, ‘But I really didn’t know.’”
Family history and experiences, even devoid of formal practice or education, helped craft Barron’s identity.
“There’s something so deep and pervasive about being Jewish,” he said. “The thing about being Jewish and the thing about being a part of an oppressed people is that nobody gives a s— whether I went to Hebrew school. When they come for the Jews they’re not going to be asking me whether I was bar mitzvahed or not.
“I think growing up Jewish, you know what’s happened to us over the years, and you know that it’s more than just — I think it’s more than just keeping kosher,” he added. “I’m sure a lot of Orthodox Jews would think this is just total hogwash what I’m saying right now, but in my mind, we’re all in this together no matter what, no matter what side of the practicing spectrum you’re on.”
Such mentality has led Barron to feel a kinship with those from all walks of life.
“To the best of our abilities everybody should just get off their bulls— and find a way to get along,” he said. “My heart is full of love. I’m a lucky person. I’m glad that I’m the person I am and have been given this talent for writing and communicating.”
Listeners of “Angels and One Armed Jugglers” will recognize these sentiments on the album. So too should South Side audiences, even those initially confused by a successful rock band member’s decision to go it alone.
Said Barron: “If I heard the guy from the Spin Doctors was coming to town and playing solo acoustic I really wouldn’t know what to expect. I would probably think some silly guy in a floppy hat was going to be up there and doing some silly tunes.
“So I would just like to thank everybody who comes out in advance for taking a punt, and if they don’t think they got a good show just come and see me and I’ll give you your money back.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.