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Into the Mystic
By Ann Morrow

Cruxshadows, Ego Likeness

Valentine’s, Sept. 24

As the band stood silent, a foreboding voice from offstage recited “Annabel Lee” with grim relish. It could mean only one thing: The Cruxshadows were in the house.

Fresh off an extensive and successful European tour, the Cruxshadows from Florida returned to Albany for another of their crowd-pleasing evenings of atmospheric music and mysticism. Since their first local appearance in 1997, around the time of their first (and enduringly popular) alternative-club hit, “Marilyn, My Bitterness,” the band have continued to mine their irresistible vein of emotive darkwave. Saturday’s show, happily enough, was more of the same.

All these years later, and the sincere enthusiasm of Cruxshadows’ vocalist Rogue, who is also the songwriter, programmer, and spiritual leading light, remains undimmed. The statuesque frontman and his towering hair and peculiarly appealing waver led the charge for an interlude of nightclub theatricality that was vaguely reminiscent of Weimar-era Berlin cabaret (the band are especially popular in Germany). Two striking dancers—Rogue introduced them as “very beautiful and very talented” without exaggeration on either count—writhed nonstop throughout the lengthy set. Festooned with LED lights and wearing a headset, the interactive frontman left the stage several times to sing up close and personal with the crowd, all the while expressing the heartfelt lyrical conviction that he’s known (and in some quarters, revered) for. At one point, he broke into a jig—this is one icon of charisma who is unself-conscious enough to risk being corny.

Cruxshadows songs, however, tend to be sublimely moody. Straddling the twin pillars of synthpop and techno-industrial, they’re populated by angels, Egyptian deities, lost lovers, and ultimately, faith and love. Saturday’s set was drawn mostly from their last three or so releases, in support of the band’s first ever DVD, Shadowbox. The highlight was a breathtaking solo by violinist Rachel McDonnell. A mournful Celtic air, the solo shifted into a Middle Eastern vamp that led to the shimmering “For everlast.” McDonnell’s soaring bowing was also the key component of a beautifully propulsive “Dragonfly.”

“Helen,” a testament to courage, was dedicated to local goth promoter Penny Green, who died of cancer earlier this year. Later in the set, Rogue related a warm description of his 10-year friendship with Green that had her many friends in the audience—and onstage—holding back tears. At its conclusion, he admitted, “No one wants to see the band cry.” Pausing a beat, he added: “Then again, we are a goth band,” a line that elicited knowing laughs from the room. Sad but entertaining, it was a eulogy that Green would’ve appreciated.

Ego Likeness, a synth trio from Washington, D.C., opened with a solemn and lovely set centered on vocalist-keyboardist Donna Lynch. Most memorable was the stark piano ballad “Wolves.” Everything else sounded like Projekt music, but with a pulse.

Open to Interpretation

Geoff Muldaur

Caffe Lena, Saratoga Springs, Sept. 24

Geoff Muldaur’s repertoire is a testament to the value of quality over quantity. His career reaches across 40 years, first with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, then as duos (including three classic albums, a pair with his then-wife Maria and another with Amos Garrett), and then member of larger ensembles and primarily as a solo act. Last Saturday’s show in Saratoga Springs found him revisiting material that has been a mainstay for him since the ’60s. He writes few songs and chooses those he covers with great care, arranging them with a meticulousness nicely hidden behind the casual ease of his formidable skills. His ability to inhabit songs by such blues masters as Sleepy John Estes, Mississippi John Hurt and Blind Willie Johnson is complete and utterly honest. He is free of the histrionics and shallow calisthenics that make it nearly impossible to sit through performances by most grandstanding blues operators. To paraphrase Richard Thompson, there are three great white blues singers, and Geoff Muldaur is two of them.

Joining Muldaur for all but a couple songs of his two sets was the previously unannounced John Sebastian, switching between guitar, banjo and harmonica. While Muldaur’s guitar and voice are already capable of presenting each number in nicely nuanced shadings, Sebastian’s presence added a couple of compelling aspects. The first is the most obvious, the musical accompaniment and occasional soloing. The other is rare, and was a joy to behold: two old friends finding their way into a shared tradition and songbook. Sebastian’s a quick study. His eyes riveted to Muldaur’s fretboard, he’d try a note or rhythmic line and you could witness a musical mind at work, as he’d quickly reconsider and have the character of the song in shape within a few bars.

The breadth of Muldaur’s influences—jug band, blues, folk, R&B, Tin Pan Alley and more—make for a resonant whole, with his love of one genre spilling over into another. One doesn’t go to a Geoff Muldaur show to be surprised by song choices, but to be captivated by one of the foremost song interpreters of our time.

—David Greenberger


Fashion Rocks!
photo:Chris Shields

Saturday night (Sept. 24) at the Lark Tavern saw the blending of two worlds: the rockers and the fashionistas (we’re guessing it made for one hell of an after-party). Local designers presented their clothing lines while Bryan Thomas soul-rocked-out wearing a Liability T-shirt (by local designer Tommy Watkins) in between models strutting their stuff on the catwalk. For more pictures of this event (and the before-and-after craziness), check out www.thehiddencity.com.

 

 

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