After a Hiatus, A.A. Bondy Delivers at a Sold-Out Mercury Lounge

July 17th, 2015

A.A. Bondy – Mercury Lounge – July 16, 2015

I don’t think anyone quite knew what to expect at last night’s A.A. Bondy show at Mercury Lounge, including the singer-songwriter himself. As Bondy described it, he’s been on “hiatus,” and his return to a New York City stage felt like anything but a given. Bondy spent the minutes before the set arranging his guitars and gear and light show (a single red spotlight) with a laid-back demeanor, toothpick in his mouth, Van Morrison streaming over the PA while the sold-out crowd patiently waited. Then he gave a nod, the house lights went down, the room went almost completely dark, save for that red light, and the chatting people immediately became utterly silent. It was almost eerie the way the room transformed, and it was only the beginning of a powerful, honest and surreal set of music.

Bondy displayed his initial unease, hopping up and down after the opening number, “The Twist,” explaining he was a “bit freaked out” and that he thought certain things might have been “forgotten.” And while some musicians thank a crowd for coming out to see them play, Bondy was clearly, deeply moved that his fan base—in any size or form—still existed at all. This openness continued throughout the late set as he worked through his material solo, that red light forcing angular shadows onto his face and the ceiling while the rest of the room listened in dark silence. Many of the early songs featured samples, light drum loops and synth, but this only brought into focus the stark, minimal feel from Bondy’s voice and guitar. But from the back of the crowded venue, these samples felt like a live band on stage, as if there were accompanying musicians just out of sight. He continued to lay it bare on songs like “Surfer King,” but as the show wore on, the set list felt secondary to the emotion coming from the stage.

For the first half of the show, the air-conditioning was off and the full room was hot and stuffy. In the darkness, it felt like a challenge: an ancient sweat lodge intended to trigger hallucinations. Bondy’s banter added to the effect, mixing random jokes and moments of profound insights (“Can you buy fear?”) with strange, tangential and almost surreal comments (“What if an elephant walked in the room right now? That would be cool”). During the second half of the show, it felt like the audience was actually a part of Bondy’s hallucination: an imaginary friend to reveal your innermost emotions and weirdest passing thoughts to, an inner monologue made public without inhibition. All the while, the music became stronger and deeper. “Route 28” was a highlight, no effects beyond Bondy’s aching voice and his open-hearted guitar playing, singing about the “killer inside.” Toward the end of the performance, he played “A Slow Parade,” singing about the “wild, wild sea,” and I realized how many of Bondy’s songs mentioned the ocean. To hear him sing about the sea with a voice that always seemed to somehow be verging on tears was to imagine a bleak, beautiful infinite thing. Whatever the audience expected from A.A. Bondy at the beginning of the night, they were given the absolute depths. —A. Stein | @Neddyo