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Red fish, blue fish, we’re not Jellyfish: Richard X. Heyman and band at Valentine’s. Photo by Joe Putrock

Strange Accents
By John Rodat

Richard X. Heyman, 5 Alpha Beatdown, Jump Cannon
Valentine’s, Nov. 22

When out-of-town acts from Boston or New York come through for one-offs, you can get some pretty interesting and unexpected stylistic juxtapositions/congruencies on stage: Since they’re not on extended tours with handpicked, thematically linked opening acts, they rely on a local contact to round out the bill: a club booker or a sympathetic local band. I don’t know who it was who pieced together Friday’s show at Valentine’s, but it provided an interesting lesson in the variety of pop dialect. And illustrated that even among fans with an ostensible common interest, some accents can be jarring.

First up were area mainstays Jump Cannon, whom I haven’t caught live in more than a year. The change in the band in that time is remarkable: They’ve recruited a new (to me) bassist, Jessie Pellerin of Kitty Little, and lead singer Sarah Paul has ditched the vocoder—and thereby eased up bit on the goth influences that had them tagged as neo-gloom-rockers in the past. Though Paul’s synth-processed vocals were always atmospheric and interesting, in retrospect it’s easy to see how they distracted from the smart, solid songcraft of the band. Though there is an apparent penchant for the postpunk of the early ’80s, it’s as much Murmur-era R.E.M. as Bauhaus. It’s pop with an art-school edge, and when Paul and guitarist Shawn Dawson shared vocals, the songs took on a light and fun—almost twee—vibe. They’re more Kindercore these days than 4AD, which is just fine.

Next up were 5 Alpha Beatdown from Iceland, a duo bearing striking similarities to John Brodeur and Keith Hosmer of the Suggestions (of Albany). They’re as much punchline as real side project—the banter was delivered in accents that were, if not convincingly Icelandic, at least vaguely Viking—but there’s something appealing about them nonetheless. The song I took to be their theme, “It’s Time to Rock,” was a clever-in-a-good-way jab at the current crop of ready-made Northern European garage-rock stars like the Hives—I think—and there were a couple of tight, hook-rich Jason Falkneresque songs that stood on their own merits. However, as the songs ventured further from the shtick (a paean to “import beer” and “big, fat joints,” for example), my interest faded. For this to work completely (and I think it can), it should be played straight and taken to the extreme—all the way to 11.

Richard X. Heyman’s reputation precedes him, which may or may not be a good thing. He’s been putting out well-orchestrated, surprisingly lush, classic pop albums since the late ’80s—most of them recorded in his Manhattan apartment. Though commercially he’s underappreciated, the critics have been unstinting in their praise of his technically flawless pop, and the modest crowd had high expectations. Unfortunately, as Heyman’s live performance differs substantially from his album work, some purists left with their expectations unfulfilled.

With his high Cuban heels, shaggy Mod haircut and Rickenbacker, Heyman certainly looked every bit the classic pop revivalist; thing is, he plays it rougher than that. Supported by his wife, Nancy, on bass, and a kit player, Heyman’s set had more rock & roll barroom bluster than, say, Jellyfish—whom a friend of mine said he had been led to believe Heyman would resemble. Instead, he weds a rollicking, soulful, classic-rock performance style with finely crafted songwriting: Imagine early Steve Winwood performing songs by Marshall Crenshaw. It was a stripped-down and exuberant performance, which for some reason just didn’t seem to connect with the audience.

My blood runs cold: Peter Wolf at Northern Lights. Photo by Martin Benjamin.


Peter Wolf
Northern Lights, Nov. 20

Peter Wolf has recently released the finest album of his career, Sleepless. That in no way diminishes his earlier achievements with the J. Geils Band or on his own, it is simply the way it is for an artist who continues to find deeper and more resonant purpose for himself as the years roll by.

His show last week at Northern Lights was a case of the right music in the wrong room. His current six-piece band is one member larger than the instrumentalists in the Geils band, but they play at half the volume. What that simple mathematical fact reveals is a range of subtleties, by turns dramatic, passionate, and richly textured. Country, blues and soul are braided together with the natural ease of musicians who understand that it’s all water from the same deep lake. Alas, subtlety didn’t stand a chance in a cavernous room filled with patrons stoked on the notion that this was the second coming of the J. Geils Band.

As I stood in the midst of the stagefront crowd, who were yelping and whooping in every available quiet passage (and this music afforded plenty of just such opportunities), two thoughts were going through my mind: “secondary market” and “These are not my people” (which a friend pointed out both sound like they could be titles of Joe South songs). Chalking this up to a booking error demands allowing some leeway for crossed expectations. That said, there’s no excuse for working one’s way up to the foot of the stage and then talking loudly as if the headliner weren’t three feet away singing a ballad (oh, if they only had the manners of the polite 5-year olds at Dan Zanes’ concert this past Sunday at the Egg). The show revealed a topflight singer and his band, drawing on their sheer professionalism to entertain the wrong audience. They made the best of it, because professionals don’t punish—they perform.

—David Greenberger

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