Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Saturday Night Desire Comes in All Shades – Larkin Grimm at Cafe Bourbon Street, 02/07/09

“Pouring on the garbage and it’s filling up my car
My suffering is meaningless and sticking like the tar
That smothers all grass and lets me drive it to the bar"
And if you want to handle me, just tell me who you are”
-Larkin Grimm, “Dominican Rum”

The weather finally broke and broke so hard it felt like I was some kind of desperate explorer staggering over the cracking ice-skin of the world and just trying to keep my footing Saturday night.  But I might have been staggered in other ways, when I think about it.

First to Ruby Tuesday for the second night of the Lost Weekend 6th Anniversary weekend, after last night’s terrific sets by Night Family and Sandwich, caught the frontman of Moon High doing a solo set that was beautiful.  Maybe colored by news of her death, but he carried the sense of a Blossom Dearie or Peggy Lee in his restrained, smoky delivery. 

The Beatdowns did one of the best sets I’ve seen them break out in a while, 10 songs, one cover, no fat.  In an era where we’re choked with bands regurgitating past trends and genres without any away-from-the-scene conceptualization or care, Matt Benz’s songwriting has taken up Ray Davies gauntlet and grafted heavy emotional content and the weight of his experience to the music of his childhood.  That he does this without the songs getting too weighty or didactic is a testament to the songs and the band.  They can be inconsistent, but it’s a beautiful thing when it’s working and it was working Saturday night.

After that, trekked north to see Larkin Grimm at Cafe Bourbon Street.  Her new record, Parplar, is probably my favorite thing out of the Young God stable since the last Angels of Light record and she stopped in Columbus en route to Knoxville’s Big Ears festival.  Through a dismal, largely indifferent turn-out, she and her three band members wrung some beauty out of what was basically a public rehearsal.

And good lord, what a band.  Elizabeth Deviln, used her voice for percussion and high-pitched hillbilly shape-note singing, and her autoharp for chiming, mandolin-like runs and percussive thickening behind Grimm’s sweet snarl and guitar.  John Houx getting both pizzicato string-section stabs and low-end dulcimer-like plucking recalling Joni Mitchell’s playing on Blue, and bringing a whole drum choir out of a tiny hand-held tambourine, his leg, and a microphone, knowing exactly when he needed to be a conguero and when he was manning tympani.  And the violinist introduced as “Sha-nay-nay”, painting backgrounds out of razor-blades and orchids, somewhere between Henry Flynt and Jessica Pavone.

But as with anything, the best band in the world doesn’t matter without the songs behind it, and Grimm’s songs are a wonder.  In form, they can conjure Kurt Weill and Indonesian gamelan and echo through Hazel Dickens and Nina Simone but the singularity of the vision and the intensely individual quality never wavers.  The songs are full of a mystery that teeters on the precipice of anticipation and dread, never quite knowing where they’ll land when they inevitably fall. 

At the same, time, there’s that sense of being in love with the falling, with the tragedy.  Embracing everything that matters, spiritual and sensual, while watching the world crumble around you.  When she sings, on “Blond and Golden Johns”, “This mouth has wrapped around some things / More delicious than the songs I sing”, followed with  a sigh and a hum, it’s boastful as much as or more than seductive, you know exactly who’s in charge, and she doesn’t ever let you think she needs you for anything.  The perfect show for a night when the climate shifts suddenly and it looks like everything’s falling apart.


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