Review: G. Love gives a sunny performance at Artscape

When Garrett "G. Love" Dutton walked onstage and greeted the Artscape audience with "What's up, Baltimore," it was 8:15 p.m. but the sun was still shining bright.

Before long, the sun had set, and Dutton and his band were ready to party until the 10 p.m. curfew.

The Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter and backing band known as G. Love & Special Sauce headlined Artscape Saturday night on the Wells Fargo Main Stage on Mount Royal Avenue. And while they may not be one of the more famous names to grace Artscape over the years, with just a handful of modern rock radio hits and no album charting higher than No. 63 on the Billboard 200, G. Love & Special Sauce was perhaps the most appropriately summery act of the weekend's festivities.

The band's warm reception at Artscape was a testament to their enduring appeal on the college touring circuit. One of their most popular songs, "Cold Beverage," even felt like a tribute to the countless cups of lemonade (and perhaps other, stronger beverages) that kept festival-goers moving throughout the band's set.


Photos: Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade

Dutton began his performance looking much like the bluesmen who've influenced his music, seated in a chair with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica holder around his neck. Later, he would switch to an electric guitar. The band opened with "Milk And Sugar," an ode to coffee that references the Folgers ad jingle (Dutton himself sang an ad jingle for Coca-Cola in a 2005 commercial).

G. Love & Special Sauce emphasized original material from early albums — particularly their gold-selling 1994 self-titled debut and the 1995 follow-up, "Coast To Coast Motel" — but they also peppered the set with covers. The song "Booty Call" segued into "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" by The Beatles, which was later followed by Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."

At one point, Dutton went off on an extended showcase of his harmonica skills, following an anecdote about how to play harmonica that involved a bit of sexual innuendo. In addition to the harmonica and Dutton's impressive slide guitar work, Special Sauce often showcased flashy musicianship, with upright bassist Timo Shanko taking several solos.

G. Love has released four solo albums without Special Sauce, including the latest, "Fixin' To Die," which was produced by The Avett Brothers and issued on Jack Jonson's Brushfire Records in February. And midway through Saturday's performance, he returned to his acoustic guitar to perform "Fixin' To Die's" lead single, "Just Fine," while the band took a break.

Toward the end of their set, Special Sauce chose to highlight another genre that's greatly influenced the band's sound: hip-hop. With raucous covers of Black Sheep's "The Choice Is Yours" and Biz Markie's "Just A Friend," Dutton led the Artscape audience in a nostalgic singalong to close the show.