"If there's one thing this country loves, " A.A. Bondy said before he played "Vice Rag" at Iota last night, "it's drugs and the Bible." And even though that's actually two things, the small crowd cheered, because they were on Bondy's side and wanted him to keep singing his resonating, spooked indie-folk songs in his resonating, whiskey-rough voice. So he did, going on for more than an hour in a performance that was loose, intimate and charming.
Bondy has done an indie rock tour of duty (stationed in Birmingham, Ala., with Verbena, post-grunge division), so he's not much interested in rock dynamics anymore; but a weary acknowledgment of them float around the edges of songs like "Witness Blues," "Of the Sea," "Black Rain, Black Rain" and "There's a Reason."
Last night, he strung them out even further than their considerably strung-out recorded versions, warping choruses and extending endings until they were enveloped in a kind of Xanax dream haze, which matched their "John Wesley Harding"-esque visionary imagery.
A handful of new songs -- notably "When the Devil's Loose" and "Oh the Vampyre" -- widened that motif ever so slightly, boasting rich, oscillating choruses and ringing open chords. Promising signs for Bondy's second album, due out on the Fat Possum label in a few months.
Those songs obviously affected the fans, one of whom was moved to buy Bondy a drink, which in turn led to a thank you in the form of an extra-desolate cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
Which led to more drinks coming onstage, which led to opener Holly Miranda joining Bondy for a ragged take on Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire." Which led to Miranda's violinist Marques Toliver breaking out his fiddle for a closing duet that whispered the show to a appropriately haunting close.
--Patrick Foster (June 2009)