ARLINGTON -- In this bone-chilling New England winter, there are still rays of warmth that promise better times ahead. On Sunday evening at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, local musician Dennis Brennan organized a group of his pals for a concert benefiting the charity Project Bread. The well-paced three-hour performance raised $4,000 and proved to be an intimate and joyful gathering, with one surprise after another.
The show, featuring a wonderfully eclectic mix of performers, hit several high points, culminating with the unannounced presence of local legend Peter Wolf. Joining Brennan and the frighteningly talented house band assembled for the night, Wolf tore through "Night Time," a standard of his former outfit, the J. Geils Band. Flanked by Dennis Brennan and Brennan's son Jake, Wolf drove the song, locking into a rhythm with drummer Dave Mattacks that proved once again that the singer knows only one velocity: full throttle.
But fans of the local roots-rock community had gotten their money's worth long before Wolf's arrival. The evening began with two instrumentals from the supremely talented Duke Levine. As guitarist in the house band, his playing was exemplary throughout the show, and he consistently found perfect spots for tasteful notes.
Sarah Borges, who continues to prove herself to be one of Boston's best-kept secrets, may have stolen the evening's first set. Her high, lonesome delivery of "Daniel Lee" was beautiful, recalling crooner Neko Case. Jake Brennan also shone on the Regent's expansive stage, looking every bit the frontman as he led the house band through "Route 110."
David Johnston showed his abilities with the slow burning "Going to the Well," and Tim Gearan's "Shade of Blue" was a lovely, lilting ballad. The first set concluded with Ry Cavanaugh being joined by Jennifer Kimball for a pounding "What Matters," bringing to mind the Jayhawks when they have had a female member.
After intermission, the Heygoods started with two rootsy numbers that proudly showed the influence of the Knitters, a side project of the punk band X. Bourbon Princess's Monique Ortiz then brought a smoky cool to the stage, followed by Jabe Beyer, who delivered a galloping groove reminiscent of Old 97's. His "Kelly Maguire," which he introduced as a song "about a girl from Somerville," was a smart and swinging hit.
By the time the evening's amiable MC, Sean Staples, had delivered two songs, the stage was set for the senior Brennan, and he did not disappoint. His "Government Johnny" showed glimpses of the Pogues, and "Sugarfoot" had the hard push of a Tom Petty track. The Mercy Brothers' "New Year's Blues" was another treat.