a net: Iris Dement at the Egg.
Egg, May 1
Performing musicians who decide to forgo a set list are the
daredevils of the family, relying on skill, momentary inspiration,
and more than a little bit of bravado to help see them through
a complete performance without falling from some great height.
And folk-country darling Iris Dement gambled big and early
during last Saturday night’s sometimes thrilling, at other
times foundering show at the Egg’s intimate Swyer Theatre.
After a particularly rousing and crowd-pleasing opening set
by ace Austin songwriter Bruce Robison, Dement seemed to want
to open strong, which she did, with an impassioned, flawless
version of the classic weeper “That’s the Way Love Goes” (written
by country legend Lefty Frizzell). Afterwards, she explained,
“That’s my favorite song—just so you know how good it can
get.” The three-quarters filled Swyer was then treated to
the rousing self-aggrandizement of Albert Brumley’s “Surely
I Will, Lord,” a gospel tune that Dement sang as a child in
a quartet which included her father and siblings. After this
bit of backstory, Dement finally turned to some of her own
material, the tribute “Mama’s Truth” tracing her own hard-headedness
to her mother’s, while “Living on the Inside Too Much” seemed
to detail Dement’s struggles with depression—fine songs both,
but they paled in comparison with the heavy-hitters Dement
chose to open the show with. Dement then regaled the crowd
with a couple of songs in praise of the flowers and scenery
surrounding the home she’s made with husband (and fellow singer-songwriter)
Greg Brown. Again, fine enough, but self-congratulatory navel-gazing
gets old pretty quickly, no matter how sweet the voice.
When Dement moved to acoustic guitar, her lack of a setlist
started to threaten the coherence of the whole night. After
a couple of false starts, Dement returned to the safety of
the classics and domestic bliss, ambling out “I Still Miss
Someone” (dutifully checking to see if the crowd knew who
the song’s author was) and an anniversary song to her husband
which managed to be both cloying and subtly damning in the
shallowness of its praise.
Despite her faults as a performer, Dement’s voice proved a
thing of wonder, a mesmerizing instrument that blends some
of the earthy keen of early Dolly Parton, the purity and grace
of Allison Krauss, and some of the iconoclastic but spiritual
austerity of the late Judee Sill. Dement recovered from the
shaky start to the guitar set with two triumphs. A song about
losing one’s faith after the loss of a younger sibling, “The
Night I Learned How Not to Pray” was gripping from start to
finish, while “River of Tears” at least gave a reason to believe
besides salvation from the eternal fire.
Just as the evening seemed to start building towards a grand
finish, Dement muttered something like “Ah, white people,”
in response to what she felt was the too quiet response of
the mostly older and, indeed, lily-white audience members.
It was hard to muster any more interest in the monotonous
train of gauzy nostalgia and gospel tunes that Dement continued
to play, and sad to say, I left before the night was through.
The Incredible Casuals, Grainbelt
are 50-year-old people in a mosh pit,” said the guy manning
the merchandise table at Valentine’s for the Incredible Casuals,
speaking of the Cape Cod band’s long-running and legendary
sessions at the waterfront Beachcomber restaurant and bar
in Wellfleet, Mass., where they’ve held court every Sunday
afternoon in summer for the past 30 years.
It’s not hard to imagine the Casuals killing it with the barefoot-on-the-beach
set, primed as that crowd may be with Malibu rum, fresh oysters
on the raw bar, and blood-orange sunsets. As the Casuals did
during their rare Valentine’s appearance last Saturday night,
the freewheeling band flits easily between crowd-pleasing
party-rockers (“Let Her Dance”), breezy love songs (“Paper
Roses”) and wailing covers (the Righteous Brothers’ “Little
Latin Lupe Lu,” the Sonics’ “Psycho”).
Bringing a vibe of mellow debauchery to Albany on any given
night is not easy, but the Casuals did their damnedest to
recreate a beach party at Valentine’s. Frontman Chandler Travis—who
formed the group in 1981 with drummer Vince Valium (also known
as Rikki Bates) and guitarist Johnny Spampinato—scampered
across the stage in bare feet and a ridiculous pink-flowered
beach hat, while the cross-dressing Bates rocked a librarian
in a sundress look and guitarist Aaron Spade sported a mean-looking
Plucked out of context it was an incongruous site at first,
but by the third song, Spade’s rollicking “Rockhouse,” the
band brought plenty of heat to shore up the outfits. A crowd
of people danced arms-length apart in front of the stage as
Spampinato’s “So Excited” followed—a rave-up in the same musical
family tree as any number of tunes from cult party band NRBQ,
whose bassist Joey Spampinato is Johnny’s brother (and Johnny
himself has played in NRBQ since the 1990s). A song or two
later and they were blowing through Travis’ power-pop classic,
“This World,” which probably wasn’t much of a hit at the time
of its release in 1995—but could and should have been.
been 25 years since we’ve been here [to Albany], and it will
be another quarter century until you see us again,” Travis
said toward the end of the band’s two-hour-plus set, which
closed with a rare instrumental, “Wham,” a plaintive version
of the Replacements’ “Swingin’ Party” and Spampinato’s nostalgic
“Summertime.” All the more reason to go see the band in their
native shoes-optional habitat—you’ve got 15 chances starting
the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
thought if we played tonight we’d get in for free,” joked
Grainbelt frontman and Valentine’s honcho Howard Glassman
at the start of the Albany country-rock quartet’s fitting
opening set. Wearing a Keith Hernandez shirt that rivaled
bassist Chris Blackwell’s Yankees cap, Glassman led the band
through some tried-and-true songs from Grainbelt sets of yore:
“From an Old Bottle,” a puller of heart-strings from the band’s
2007 album, Trouble Coming Down; an amped-up “Bend
in the River” to make Fogerty proud; and “War of the Wills,”
another Trouble highlight. It wasn’t all sentimental
favorites though: The band also previewed material from a
soon-to-be recorded new album before blazing through a cover
of their Figgs’ standby, “Kiss Off Baby.”
Protest the Hero, Architects, the Viking
A man on a bench was playing the clarinet as I strolled through
Washington Park. Down the street someone shouted obscenities
at a cab driver. The smell of tulips wafted in the air and
mixed with the heavy perfumes worn by young ladies who tightly
gripped their boyfriends’ hands as they passed by the homeless
gentlemen cuddled up on benches. The glorious pink of dusk
nearly faded into a foreboding hazy blue seen in the works
of the Hudson River School painters. It was hard to tell where
the beauty stopped and the ugly began. At the show, distinguishing
the thin line between symphony and cacophony got exponentially
Protest the Hero are a band I should like: progressive metal,
with flourishes of death, prodigious guitar playing and a
sick drummer. Lead singer Rody Walker can hit the high notes
while singing about ridiculous things, and he bears a deep
sense of humor. He’s even got a song about Genghis Khan called
“Blood Meat.” Some of this translated live on Friday night:
Lead guitarist Luke Hoskin tore it up with amazing sweeps
and leads that swam above the din of the band. Unfortunately,
the sound quality was atrocious. The rhythm guitar bled into
the bass, and Walker’s vocals were at times dragged into the
mess. Walker’s highs did not come across well from the stage.
Some of the harmonies painfully evoked Avenged Sevenfold.
Brighton, England’s, Architects were the surprise of the night.
They are a technically proficient band who started out focusing
on interesting compositions, but over time have streamlined
their sound into a straightforward metalcore attack. They’ve
got their stage presence down and are frighteningly close
in image to cheap U.K. metalcore trash Bullet for my Valentine
and Bring Me the Horizon. It should have been boring, but
the band has soul—it was devastating.
Architects’ sound was crisp and gorgeous in its horrific fury.
Spiky, technical, guitar riffs played off of extremely blonde
lead singer Sam Carter’s authoritative but plaintive shrieking.
When the fast-paced riffing gave way to deep, distorted chords
that hung in the air, it felt like everything had been laid
to waste—and then shimmering ambient techno-noise and light
beats sprang up like pretty little place holders letting you
know everything would be all right.
Local prog-metal killers The Viking earned their opening slot
with just plain silly chops and reckless abandon. Lead singer
Nate Danker dangled upside down from a rafter while the crowd
shouted his lyrics back at him. Drummer Josh James pounded
the band’s impressive chaos into order with precise but reserved
kit work. Madison Petruzzi and Jesse Winchester toyed with
rhythms and displayed impressive technical guitar craft. With
daringly composed metal that at times was much more captivating
than the bands that followed them, the Viking were the most
interesting act of the night. The way the band handle their
audience, the way they handle their instruments, and their
ability to take disparate influences and turn them into metal
thrill rides is really a beautiful thing. Someone should give
these guys a record deal.