The Haunting Dirty Beaches

September 21st, 2011

Dirty Beaches – Mercury Lounge – September 20, 2011

The eerie creepiness of Dean Stockwell singing into a light bulb along to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” in Blue Velvet is even spookier in person when Alex Zhang Hungtai of Dirty Beaches delivers his own similarly bizarre take on an updated rockabilly-ballad nightmare. It’s a combination of Suicide and Tom Waits tasked to compose the latest Twin Peaks soundtrack reboot: lo-fi loops of delayed piano, droning basslines and dread. Hungtai delivers a heavy-reverb vocal alternating between a blues-inspired croon and yelp in a new track, “Don’t Let the Devil Find You.”

Last night at Mercury Lounge he expanded on his previous solo live performances, which had relied on a backing track of samples, by playing with Jesse Locke on percussion and Francesco De Gallo on saxophone. Neither of whom are featured on Hungtai’s debut full-length, Badlands, but the lineup seems like the evolving direction of the haunting Dirty Beaches sound, the free-form squealing brass and polyrhythmic timpani drumming is a natural accompaniment to Hungtai’s ghost-of-Elvis vocals.

Free to roam the stage, Hungtai was nearly possessed, singing into a tiny distorted microphone, occasionally banging out a wall of sound on his hanging guitar. This bizarre combination of influences might have something to do with the fact that he grew up around the globe, taking pieces of Taiwan, Hawaii and Montreal with him, channeling the whole melting pot into a somewhat throwback conceptual album from the viewpoint of the global nomadic wanderer, the ultimate timeless road album. They ended the set with the unusually melodic “Lord Knows Best,” an update on an inhuman glimpse of the future that could play alongside Julee Cruise’s “Falling” as one of the most unsettling tracks that defines an entire genre. —Jason Dean

Photos courtesy of Diana Wong |