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Without a net: Iris Dement at the Egg.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Daring Doo

By Mike Hotter

Iris Dement

The 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.


Beach Housed

The Incredible Casuals, Grainbelt

Valentine’s, May 1

“There 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 sunburn.

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.

“It’s 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.

“We 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.”

—Kirsten Ferguson


Majestic Metal

Protest the Hero, Architects, the Viking

Valentine’s, April 29

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 more difficult.

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.

—David King

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