Citizen Cope at the Fillmore, by Jon BauerCitizen Cope (photo: Jon Bauer)

Citizen Cope seemed as captivated by his San Francisco crowd as they were of him on Friday, December 16 at The Fillmore.

The third of four solo acoustic performances before a four-night run in SoCal with his full band surrounding New Year’s Eve, Clarence Greenwood has done this sort of thing before — intimate, low-key evenings of just him and the fans, all loving on the songs together. By the time he took the stage at 9:30pm, he appeared as humble and nervous as if it were one of his first.

There was something honest and painfully telling in his opening tune, “Fame” from 2004’s The Clarence Greenwood Recordings. There’s a promising in the aching endurance of his voice that makes his cries impossible to ignore, that lets you know this man knows what he's talking about and his message is real.

“Pablo Picasso” and “Bullet and a Target,” also from the same 2004 album, had the crowd swaying and singing along early. The Fillmore stage is not enormous as far as your typical mid-size venues are concerned but any stage, let alone one with half as much history, is magnified when there’s no other band members to share it with.

“I’m trying to talk more between songs,” he said with a smile, moving right into the next one, “DFW” off of his most recent release, 2012’s One Lovely Day.

“Healing Hands” and “Lifeline,” each from 2010’s The Rainwater LP preceded the “not-so-acoustic tune” that came next, “but I think you’ll all enjoy it quite a bit,” said Greenwood as he moved into one of the most electronic-sounding tunes in his catalog: “Let The Drummer Kick” from his 2002 self-titled debut album, Citzen Cope.

He continued his theme of two-songs-from-one-album-in-a-row with “Salvation,” also from the self-titled disc. Locked into a groove but without rushing, Greenwood carried The Fillmore through a triple-threat of “D’Artagnan’s Theme” into “Hurricane Water” song and then closed with “Sideways” at 10:30pm.

It was surprising to see him walk off the stage only an hour after he first emerged, but he did just play fifteen songs. Who knows, I thought to myself, hoping he wouldn’t just milk the encore ritual for a one-two song reprise. Boy was I wrong!

About five minutes after he departed, Greenwood returned. Call it a second set or an nine-song encore, but he played for another hour — even going as far as obliging requests from the audience.

He kicked the return off with “Keep Askin’” from The Rainwater LP followed by an enthusiastic rendition of “Penitentiary.” One of the best parts of the evening was the looseness and fluidity with which Greenwood transitioned from mood to mood, across albums and decades, never getting stuck.

He returned to his 2002 debut for “Mistaken ID,” and even shared a song that was supposed to appear on a record that was never released — the label let him go before it had a chance to come out — before moving into “Brother Lee” from 2006’s Every Waking Moment.

It was at this point he took two requests from the crowd, both from his 2002 debut album: “200,000 (In Counterfeit 50 Dollar Bills)” and “Holdin’ On” before ending the show at 11:20pm.

By the end of the show, it was clear that Greenwood and the audience were sharing a palpable connection with each other, as if the crowd were a collective second collaborator — not on a stage, but in a shared space. He introduced songs with insights behind their inspiration, the characters he meets and why their vignette was written the way it was.

In the end, the two hours he spent on stage felt short; the vibe was such that it felt as though he could continue through the morning, but that would sort of dull the magic, wouldn't it?

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