fish, blue fish, were not Jellyfish: Richard X.
Heyman and band at Valentines.
Photo by Joe Putrock
By John Rodat
Richard X. Heyman, 5 Alpha Beatdown, Jump Cannon
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.
blood runs cold: Peter Wolf at Northern Lights.
Photo by Martin Benjamin.
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