A Supreme Storyteller

November 23rd, 2011

A.A. Bondy – The Bowery Ballroom – November 22, 2011

“My father always told me there was money to be made in sadness,” recounted A.A. Bondy to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom last night. Even if he wasn’t serious, it seems to be a message the singer-songwriter takes to heart, filling his set with emotional, downtempo music, singing stories in the sweet voice of someone regaining his composure after a good cry. While the show wasn’t a dance party, it wasn’t a downer either, despite the cold, wet rain falling outside.

Opening with “The Heart Is Willing,” the band highlighted the music off Bondy’s new Believers release. Recreating the haunting, Americana-flecked songs like the excellent “Rte. 28/Believers,” the band was catharsis in action. Bondy’s guitar played hollow notes like it, too, had just sobbed a bit. Songs took one of two paths: either appropriately petering out altogether or else coming to an explosive head with two guitars going angrily at each other. Although the best moments were the quiet ones, like “Mightiest of Guns,” when the pedal steel guitar was used to punctuate the poetry of the songwriting with both sadness and beauty.

At times sinewy strips of light covered the entire stage bouncing around in eerie, random motion, an effect I had never seen before until I realized that it wasn’t lights at all, but a projection of sun-glinted waves. It was brilliantly simple but powerful and evocative, a perfect match for the music. The encore started with Bondy solo and included the beautiful “Killed Myself When I Was Young,” wherein he sings: “Don’t weep, my girl so true/ Let the train whistle cry for you,” proving that while there may or may not be money in sadness, there certainly is great music. —A. Stein