delirium and bitters (Oh Hear Us, 2006)
- Tom Daley
November 24, 2005 Carla Schwartz hath declared that Dennis Brennan's music is a life-changing experience. So we go last night, and yes the man is kind of a cross between Christ and Caligula, Joe Cocker as prophetic geek rather than spastic, his corduroy jacket like a bulletproof vest warding off sanction or approbation. A scarecrow marionette, a relic of some hippie fraternity of the late sixties who never stopped clowning or bullhorning, an interpreter of ballads that might have been invoked by platoons of roach-tokers or sung to a group of hazed initiates as they chug hot Pabst Blue Ribbons and run from bar to bar in the street of some forgotten college town. His voice partial to a growl. He clenches, between his teeth, all the sadness of men whose dreams at middle age of deflowering Incan princesses or tossing a Hail Mary pass on Thanksgiving Day are rusted, almost to smithereens. He bellows, with nuanced grace, the heartbreak of listening black and singing white. He collects the premature ejaculations of his devotees and doles them out to the cautious yet doting women in the crowd with belts, buffoonery and bravado. They return his love by opening their purses and showering him with bobby pins and matchbook covers inscribed with the phone numbers of men who never call after the second date. Imagine a slightly wizened Robert Palmer, crooning dervish instead of debonair. Liver than you'll ever be, he invokes a envious begrudging in his admiring legions that morphs to total surrender by the end of his first set.
But Jennifer Kimball's opening set is the more miraculous. Duke Levine and Kevin Berry chiming at each other from lap steel to electric guitar. Vibrato-drenched, as that critic said about Neil Young's guitar when complaining about the Stray Gators (what a lousy band they were!). Jennifer Kimball at that contented intersection between experience and ingnue. A slight cast to her eyes, her waist encased in a wrap-around skirt. Her was a passion that steadily swam up through the cacophony and the over-wattaged guitars. Till it stepped out, quiet-like. Quiet as a dirge and yet breathtakingly sweet in "Last Ride Home." Here Messrs Berry and Levine were at the top of their bloody form, exchanging bell and peal. Kimball's voice glistening, ranging over the sad wrecks of the landscape like a forlorn bird of prey, swelling the drained marshes of our hearts with delirium and bitters, a poignancy brandished on the tips of fingers sliding over steel wires, a subtle currency coined from hymns to the tide, salt-flecked and seaweed-wreathed, gnawed with sleep and nectar, the upper range of her voice still pulsing through the chambers of my ears ten hours later this morning. She stepped through the minor keys barefoot and tingling, borne over nettle and splinter on wind incubated in her fecund voicebox.
Duke Levine I had heard before - first in snatches between stories on the local public radio news broadcasts, then later in a CD. The man is a virtuoso guitar player, capable of shimmy-riot, vibrato sandstorm, carillon, prank and geegaw. Sometimes mournful as a vagrant satellite, sometimes treacherous as a calving glacier, the thunder unloosed from his hands wrinkles into hailstones. Sometimes redolent with peat, like a decent single malt, sometimes calling out over the savannah with animal ululation, he hammers and plinks and shears the air, his fingers whorled with deftness. He worked the pedals like a welder, blistering the air, squeezing long trills out of fiery contact points, his index and middle fingers like electrode tips transferring current to the brass rod of his guitar strings and melding it all into new alloys. Now subtling, now gentling, now careening, now shattering, his guitar notes are particles in a wave that spin in place as they transfer the tune and the counterpoint along thousands of miles of auditory nerves.
Kevin Barry was the jeweler lapping the faceted crystal of the music. With a glinting cylinder, he slid over the telegraph wires of his lap steel guitar, unleashing flocks of migratory birds that had only moments before clutched and gripped the cables with the fervency of their one-eyed sleep. Like a bearded Orpheus, he coaxed calamity and corrosion, nightmare and serendipity out of vibrating air, his lugubrious and ecstatic pressure breaking like volcanic ash into an airborne torrent so wide the basement bar seemed to dim.
Billy Beard brushed the sides of his drum kit, tapped a cluster of nutshells, smiled on occasion, loosening himself from the grips of an intensely fierce and joyous concentration. He shirred the sound waves with a shamanic syncopation. He wore a "Justice for Janitors" t-shirt, the headline letters bordered in glitter, which peeked out between the lapels of his jacket. His kit was treated with slung rapture rather than smash or burn.
Richard Gates broke his bass line into a cool sweat. He seemed at once thirsty and bemused, shaped by shyness, idling under the brim of his hat, content to study the fretwork of his bass, looking up only occasionally to marshal plangent and wistful harmonies under Jennifer's mellifluousness.