More Freak Than Folk at DC9 Show

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

You might be at a freak-folk show if: There's a dog camped out on stage next to the drum kit. That drum kit consists mostly of bongos. The majority of the male performers could easily wear their hair in ponytails. There are audience members sitting cross-legged on the floor.

All of the above were true at Monday night's Brightblack Morning Light/Espers show at DC9. So while the bands didn't do much to reverse the neo-hippie stereotypes associated with their unfortunately named genre, they did plenty to prove why more folks (freaky and not-so-freaky) are taking notice.

Philadelphia's Espers proved to be the highlight of the evening, with a performance that seamlessly moved between pastoral folk and psychedelic drone.

When Meg Baird's falsetto vocals rose above the controlled din, it brought to mind folk forefathers Pentangle and the Incredible String Band. But it was during the instrumental passages that featured the group's four guitarists and cellist working in unison to create sweeping atmospheric washes that the set reached its greatest heights.

Headliners Brightblack Morning Light actually don't have too much folk in them. The duo of Nathan Shineywater and Rachael Hughes, backed by two drummers and an occasional vocalist, played slow, sultry songs formed around an intoxicating blend of syrupy electric piano, slide guitar and indecipherable, echo- and reverb-laden vocals.

In fact, it was almost a bit too intoxicating. As sumptuous as the slow grooves were, it's music that is probably best enjoyed while lying under the stars. On this night, though, cross-legged on a club floor was good enough.

-- David Malitz

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