Thursday, August 25, 2011

Concert Review - Langhorne Slim at Lincoln Hall, August 24th 2011

All Music Guide describes Langhorne Slim as "a one man mixuture of The Cramps, Beck's early indie work... and the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou" and I guess that description's as accurate as any. Slim anchors his songwriting in the well-worn, love songs n' rave ups territory to be sure. But he throws enough curveballs and heartfelt passion into his songs that I found myself hopping on the #74 bus on a Wednesday night to catch him at Schubas' larger sister-venue, Lincoln Hall.

One thing I will say about a Langhorne Slim crowd is that they are passionate and VOCAL. Indeed, I remember seeing him open for the Drive-By Truckers last April and being surrounded his early-arriving fans, 50% of whom departed after his set. I must admit that tonight I arrived, admittedly, a bit late (blame these guys) and so I only caught about two songs from openers John Henry & the Engine (they were, from what I could see, damn fine country rockers with just enough gravel in the lead singer's voice to pull it off). However, my late arrival allowed me to move right to the front just as the post-opener bathroom-goers started to move out. Being in the front placed me squarely in the midst of several groups of giddy Langhorne Slim fans ready to bust a move.

I wouldn't have guessed that Slim would have a fan base that skewed so heavily female, but besides clearly dragged-along boyfriends and one very enthusiastic drunk in a cowboy hat, most everyone in the first three rows was packin' double Y chromosomes. As I listened throughout the night however, it became clear to me just how much of his oeuvre was dedicated to sweet but firey love songs that cut directly to the chase that could certainly cause many a swoon. Hell, a few songs in, I was starting to develop a crush on the guy.

The band this evening was a four-piece with a full-time keyboardist added to the studio ensemble to add color and it was a good move. The band grabbed the crowd's attention with the second song "Cinderella" prompting full throated yells from the crowd on the response portion at the beginning of each verse before the foursome went into overdrive on the choruses, prompting an odd mixture of barn dancing and pogoing in the front of the crowd. His next choice "Colette" showed that he could also grab the our hearts for a little while too, before the final minute of the song burst into another joyous hootenanny. 

Slim did everything right, playing to the crowd, gently acknowledging shout-outs with humor, moving slowly around the mic on ballads to get just the right vocal effect, all the while shedding, then repositioning, a bowler hat atop his head. The band was similarly engaged, particularly the multi-instrumentalist who jumped song-to-song from soft organ to pounding keys to string-shredding (literally) banjo and back. Songs like "Mary" and "She's Gone" lept to rip-snortin' life before the band receded and brought the tempo back down.

The only problem with the show was that it had only two speeds, ballad and barnburner and by the third consecutive barnburner, the guitar parts and heartsick lyrics started to blend together and lose some of their impact. By the middle third of the set, it was clear that some parts of the crowd were starting to lose focus and idle chatter crept into the slower songs. This is probably more a reflection of the raw material than anything else. Slim's three studio albums all boast tremendous high points alongside some fairly soggy filler. Live, the set could have done with a well-placed cover or reinterpretation of a classic to keep interest.

Fortunately, the final half hour of the show brought everything back to where it started. The band shuffled offstage about two-thirds of the way through for Slim to tackle "I Love You, But Goodbye" which reminded the house just why everyone came out on a Wednesday. This was followed by a full-band singalong of "Diamonds & Gold" that proved to be a high point of the evening. By the time Langhorne and his boys left the stage, people were ready for more. A four-song encore that included standouts "Back To The Wild" and "In The Midnight" and one promising new song (new album set to record in November) was just what the doctor ordered, sending everyone sweaty and content into the mercifully cool August evening.

As the stage lights dimmed and the house lights came on, I dawdled on my way to pay my bar tab to stop and talk with one of the giddier fans I'd met earlier. She was slipping up to the stage in hopes of snagging a setlist and walked, nay, bounced with the same unrestrained enthusiasm she'd had before the show. Behind her I saw a few fangirl bfs exchanging single-sentence reviews along the lines of "pretty good" and "he fucking kicked it up with that last one!" and I couldn't help but think that those two views summed up the show fairly well. At his best, Langhorne Slim can light up a room and pump out music that shoots right up your blood stream into the serotonin-release section of your brain. But, some three albums into his career, he's still ironing out a few lingering wrinkles on his way to the next level.

Tonight I saw a Langhorne Slim show. Nothing more, nothing less.

Back To The Wild - Langhorne Slim
In The Midnight - Langhorne Slim
I Love You But Goodbye - Langhorne Slim
Silver & Gold - Langhorne Slim

He's also recorded three sessions with the great folks at Daytrotter, check 'em out!

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