Jon Pareles, rock critic for The New York Times, went to SXSW and came back with a reality check on glo-fi, one of many micro-genres burning up the blogs. Among many good points he made was this:
It's annoyingly noncommittal music, backing droopy vocals with impersonal sounds -- a hedged, hipster imitation of the pop they're not brash enough to make.
This relates to Saturday's show at the Larimer Lounge because what Pareles thinks the glo-fi bands are doing wrong, all three of these bands are doing right. Folk and country might be thoroughly un-hip genres, but they are wonderful vessels for conviction.
Let it be known that Casey James Prestwood & The Burning Angels can draw a crowd. Playing the early slot on a non-CD release show, Prestwood and the gang had the place shoulder-to-shoulder. And despite the respective awesomeness of Hello Kavita and the Hollyfelds, the crowd thinned as the night progressed, to the point that latter played their final song to no more than a dozen people.
Prestwood, meanwhile, played the most unapologetically, straight up country in a night with a lot of that going around. The half-dozen members of the Burning Angels backed him on a set list full of twang and blues chords. His debut album, The Hurtin' Kind, belies an everyman world-weariness you've heard a thousand times before. That doesn't make it any less effective. It's not exactly dog-and-pick-up-truck stuff, but it's close.
Hello Kavita hasn't played a show in a little while, and the guys have apparently been bottling some whoop-ass in practice. "To A Loved One," the title track off their beautiful album, started out like the restrained AM gold of the studio cut and wound up in a blazing guitar solo from Luke Mossman and general wailing from everyone involved.
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Not that Hello Kavita changed identities. Most of the show was still best enjoyed in a sort of quiet, personal way -- over the course of the set you could watch each couple in the room get closer together, and by the end, almost all of them were in some sort of embrace (side-hugs and such -- we keep it PG, sort of).
The band's music makes for a tough live show -- it's a lot easier to hold a crowd if you're mashing away on two chords and breaking things than if you have a catalogue full of blissful folk gems. But Hello Kavita found the balance on Saturday, maintaing the magic of the songs, but finding ways and unexpected places to rock out all the same.
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The Hollyfelds have been at this for four years, which is at least eight in local-band years (29 in dog years, in case you were curious). Meaning they're seasoned pros. The dual front women, Eryn Hoerig and Kate Grigsby, provide energy and charm relentlessly, playing off each other in their demeanor and banter as much as in their singing.
Partly because of Hoerig and Grigsby's consummate ability to entertain, partly because of their absurd ability to sing, and partly because the whole ensemble so clearly enjoys playing their crystalline country tunes, The Hollyfelds' show is remarkable -- as cliched as it is: A breath of fresh air.
Their banter is spontaneous and self-depreciating, and they took the dwindling crowd in stride. I am convinced that the people who left were not making a judgement call on the show. Must have been Prestwood's friends and folks who won't stay out too late, regardless. Their loss.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Personal Bias: Irony sucks, and it was nice that there was none of it (that I know about, anyway) on display. By The Way: The Hollyfelds played two songs off their upcoming EP that comes out on May 22, which is way sooner than it seems. Random Details:Prestwood played pedal steel with Hello Kavita, and Grigsby rocked out so hard on the autoharp, she broke a string.