The members of the Caribbean — three middle-aged area residents, each with tidily groomed facial hair — appear to be bookish types. So it was unsurprising when singer-guitarist Michael Kentoff introduced "Mr. Let's Find Out'' to Tuesday night's Velvet Lounge audience as "the second song you're going to hear tonight that's based on a New Yorker article.'' But one aspect of the show was a little unexpected: the wordy trio's willingness to let the guitars do much of the talking.
None of the sounds the Caribbean made during the 50-minute set were actually unprecedented. The sort of whooshes, drones and whines produced by Kentoff and fellow guitarist David Jones — and their impressive array of effects pedals — are all heard on its latest album, "Discontinued Perfume.'' But that recording generally submerges its spacey noises and samples under acoustic guitars and warm, airy vocals that sometimes resemble those of Scritti Politti's Green Gartside.
In performance, the musicians went (a little) wilder. There were passages — brief ones, to be sure — that could be described as rave-ups, and the closing "That Anxious Age'' meandered into aural abstraction over a trip-hop shuffle. The noise was invigorating, in a buttoned-down sort of way.
The emphasis on sheer sonics didn't significantly alter the character of the Caribbean's distinctive songs. Kentoff's lyrics tend to be cool and prosy, without rhymes or refrains. The band's melodies can be pretty — especially when boosted by drummer-bassist Matthew Byars' backing vocals — but forgo choruses and lyrical hooks. While "Artists in Exile'' did include a few "all rights,'' there weren't any sing-along moments.
Essentially, such songs as "The Collapsitarians'' sounded like a 1980s British jazz-folk-rock cult band, updated with contemporary technology and personalized by a smart, inside-the-Beltway sensibility. Playing for a small Tuesday-night crowd of friends and admirers, the approach seemed apt. The band's act, such as it is, might not work in front of a much larger, more raucous crowd. But at the Velvet Lounge, the Caribbean's mix of intimacy and detachment, delicacy and swagger was just large enough for the room.