Kevin Devine Plays Two Albums at His Last Local Show of the YearDecember 18th, 2017
Kevin Devine – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 16, 2017
The end is near—of 2017, at least. People are preparing treks to see family or readying their own home to be visited. At the same time, they’re also reflecting on a year that many of us would probably like to move past. And Kevin Devine’s final hometown 2017 show, at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night, felt like the perfect coda. He put two albums on display, one that worries about where we’re headed and one that helps tell us how we got here. He began with the former, Instigator. Released a month before the 2016 election, it’s a loud, nervous record with a clear vision about the battles America is fighting, will fight and those already won or lost. While Devine is often flanked by a half dozen or more band members, he played this album as a trio. It was written that way, he says, and that raw sound only amplified the tension and the terror of lyrics in songs like “Both Ways” (“Our destiny, made manifest/ Oblivion and its endlessness/ Imagine our surprise when/ We actually had to pick up the check!”) or “No History,” a recalculation of 9/11’s impact on the country and its people through the hazy lens of our current troubles (“The blood and money didn’t fix anything/ We’ve grown accustomed to the depths of the danger/ This is the future/ Severe and always happening”).
While it’s all a bit dour, it’s a cathartic album to hear played live. Devine, though, seemed to rush through it the way one speeds through hard holiday conversations with family so they can get out and see old friends. No surprise, because he then moved on to the second album, 2006’s Put Your Ghost to Rest. For this one, he was joined by that ensemble of usual suspects, the Goddamn Band, as the shifting group of friends and musicians has always been called. The lyrics, written during—and often about—the Bush administration, were still challenging and surprisingly relevant. But the music grew more lush and beautiful, with violin and keyboard and shakers filling in the gaps that Instigator purposely leaves bare. Devine trades in hindsight and foresight, but he’s also a jester. He splashed the three-hour set with jokes and stories between tunes. Some were about why certain songs exist, and others were small nostalgic anecdotes he almost sounded embarrassed to share. Across the night, it was clear Devine is relieved to have survived 2017, is mourning those who haven’t, and is worrying and wondering about what 2018 will bring—just like the crowd of fans before him. —Sean O’Kane | @Sokane1