Thursday, January 17, 2013

Grandma Kelsey, Gregory Rawlins and Chris Jennings @ the Crux; Rose's Pawn Shop @ Neurolux (1/13/13)

Last Sunday, I violated one of the standing orders of this blog: I chose a show composed entirely of acts I'd already seen over one featuring groups I hadn't encountered before.  In my defense, I should explain that I'd listened to a few songs by Rose's Pawn Shop, the headlining act at Neurolux, and been left unimpressed.  They just felt too slick, too facile--the work of guys who reckoned that alt-country/Americana was the surest way to a guy's wallet and a girl's pants.  I like my indie-roots stuff with a little more spunk, a little more warmth, a little more idiosyncrasy.

So, yeah--Grandma Kelsey and Gregory Rawlins.

When I arrived at the Crux, I counted a little over forty people there.  The crowd looked composed mainly of twenty-somethings with a few folks in their thirties and forties sprinkled around.

I was a little late getting down there, so I only caught the last three songs of Chris Jennings's opening set.  From what I heard, however, the guy seems to be coming along pretty well.  Both his singing and his guitar playing sounded more assured.  His "He Stopped Loving Her Today" cover still sounded a little awkward, but hey, it took the Possum himself a while to nail that one.

Gregory Rawlins played next.  His clean, firm tenor and well-schooled country-blues tunes sounded as good as they did at the Red Room's Eastern Oregon Invasion if not better.  Not only that, the crowd's respectful silence enabled me to hear more of Rawlins's well-observed, well-phrased lyrics this time around.  Personal favorites included one number about wanting to romance a lady dishwasher and "Going to Bed Sober," a portrait of the artist as a young screw-up.

Grandma Kelsey closed out the night at the Crux.  Seeing her here, I was struck again by just how fine a balance her music strikes.  Push it a little this way or that and it could turn smug or cloying or maudlin.  As they stand, however, her evergreen melodies, ruminative lyrics and modest yet transported vocals are utterly disarming.  By just strumming her guitar and singing, Grandma Kelsey managed to seal every pair of lips and draw all eyes and ears to her.  A truly unique talent.

I'd planned to head down to Nocturnum at the Red Room after the Crux show, but a gentleman whose taste I respect persuaded me to stop by Neurolux first and check out the last forty minutes of Rose's Pawn Shop's set.  This Los Angeles-based group clearly had talent to spare.  Their honey-drawl vocals, sharp guitar solos, soaring violin, swift basswork and high-octane drumming whipped the surprisingly large crowd into an impressive frenzy.  They tangoed smoothly through Tom Waits's "Jockey Full of Bourbon" and ripped up Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi" but good.  Their most telling cover, however, was their finale: Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight."  That textbook guilty pleasure seemed to encapsulate this band's music: it was polished and fun but too bland for regular listening.

You can find info on these acts on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Special thanks to Eric Gilbert and Duck Club Presents.

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