Friday, September 12, 2008

The Silver Jews

The Silver Jews were introduced twice at the sold-out Black Cat Wednesday night, first by the grandmother of band leader David Berman, then by Berman, who cracked that the band was "Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds after taxes." Both intros were revealing, but not as much as the performance, which led to a startling conclusion: The Silver Jews have become a great live band.

Not long ago, the Jews were a record-only outfit about to go extinct as Berman skidded off the druggy rails. Now he's leading the band through its second U.S. tour, fronting a fluid indie-country unit anchored by his wife, Cassie. Her presence stabilized the band, which also featured two members of indie-country stalwart Lambchop, providing the perfect counterbalance to her husband's rumbling sing-reciting.

Indeed, after a block of numbers ("Black and Brown Blues," "Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer," "Smith & Jones Forever") in which the band tangled with Berman's poetic rumblings in classic Jews style, the set gained intensity through a string of husband-wife duets: "Tennessee" chugged like a dream of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, while "We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing" and "Slow Education" positively purred with their effortless balance of indie rock and slacker country. "Suffering Jukebox" was even better, so melodically elegant that Berman seemed barely able to stand it, singing with his arm over his face.

He looked uncomfortable, bemused or bored for most of the hour-long set, but those expressions were deceptive. The real indicator was the searing "Punks in the Beerlight," which had Berman declaiming like a man glad to back from the abyss, bent on becoming the best poet to ever front a country-rock band.

-- Patrick Foster


When Wu-Tang Clan member the GZA, a.k.a. the Genius, released his solo album "Liquid Swords" in 1995, it became an instant classic, thanks to producer RZA's bizarre, trippy production and GZA's dense lyrics, thick with loosely connected musings on street crime, martial arts and government conspiracies.

Thirteen years later, the album still has legs: GZA performed "Liquid Swords" in its entirety at Rams Head Live Wednesday night to a crowd of fans likely in grade school when the album dropped, rather than nostalgic 30-somethings old enough to have enjoyed it back then.

The young-skewing demographic seemed to both please and befuddle the GZA.

"Seems like my fans getting younger and younger," the 42-year-old MC remarked, shaking his head. "How old are you?" he inquired of one audience member, who gave his age as 20. "He was 7 when 'Liquid Swords' came out, and he knows it word for word!" GZA said.

The youngsters indeed knew every bar of the disc, from the album-opening title track through closer "B.I.B.L.E." and everything between, including the recording industry diatribe "Labels," the dystopian "4th Chamber" and "I Gotcha Back," the only track from the album to enjoy radio play -- after heavy editing, of course.

But, much like a free weekend at a time-share property, GZA followed his "Liquid Swords" performance with a brief sales pitch for his latest album, "Pro Tools." Yet, surprisingly, new tracks such as "Alphabets" and "0% Finance" boasted the sort of timeless wordplay and production that may one day enthrall the toddlers of today.

-- Sarah Godfrey

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