Bobby Long/Dawn Landes – Rough Trade NYC – August 16, 2014
It had been one of those weeks when upsetting news and disturbing images across the world seemed to fill an even greater percentage of our consciousness than usual—the kind of week that requires some good, honest music to remind you that there are still beautiful things out there. And thankfully, on Saturday night, Rough Trade NYC hosted a bill filled with acts that were just what the doctor ordered. A band to keep your eye on, Brooklyn upstart Bird Dog, opened the show with intelligent songwriting and innovative genre blending. The band hopped among styles easily: a close approximation of a country honky-tonk, a Latin groove machine and a radio-ready pop group in quick succession. And terrific guitar playing and touches of violin impressively punctuated great songs like “Holiday Season” and “Read My Letter.”
Dawn Landes, a one-woman prescription for whatever ails you, played the middle set. Her newest album, Bluebird, comes off like a newly found timeless classic, filled with golden-era country-inflected folk songs. As luck would have it, Robert Ellis, who also has a best-in-class album out this year, joined her. With Landes leading the way with her sweet-tea voice and easy-to-love charm and Ellis chiming in with an occasional harmony and quick acoustic-guitar fills, the duo melted away worries and evaporated strife. The set was full of highlights, from the cover of the sweetly humorous John Prine/Iris Dement duet “In Spite of Ourselves” to the gorgeous trio (with friend Lauren Balthrop singing harmony) on “Twilight.” But my favorite moment was when Landes sang the new album’s title track, a few minutes of perfection.
Bobby Long, who is from NYC by way of London, closed out the night singing folk the old fashioned way—just a man and his guitar onstage. With hair covering his eyes and a heavy dose of Brit humor, Long was introspective with his music. Songs were introduced with quick jokes and “true story” anecdotes, but seemed to grow in his playing, with vivid emotional imagery and broader themes. Singing solo allowed Long to expand his vocals, repeating choruses each time with different emphasis, filling in nicely with bits of fingerpicked guitar. I thought the set highlight was “Kill Someone”—about “fucking assholes”—which was prefaced with a description of Long’s sister’s ex-husband. His jokey introduction of “serious song, no clapping” made way for a piece with real anger that gave it a lively energy. Long described it as “hitting him with lyrics” as opposed to the real-life swing and a miss that his dad tried to lay on the jerk. That song might have had much more of an impact, but when passionately sung by Long it was a damn good one regardless, which counts for something. If only all the world’s problems could be solved with a great song. —A. Stein