Some of last year's best rock songs were written and sung by Holly Beth Vincent and Chris Stamey. Despite these accomplishments, Stamey's band, the dB's, couldn't get an American record deal, and Vincent was dropped by Epic. The blindness of the U.S. record industry was demonstrated at the 9:30 club last night as both Stamey and his band and Vincent's Holly & the Italians played sets of unrelenting intensity and unfailing imagination.
Focused by Tom Verlaine's superb rhythm section, Vincent's songs took on more punch than they ever had on record. With a chunky march beat, her mid-tempo songs built inexorably from murmured confessions to pounding, shouting anthems. Her one masterwork, "Unoriginal Sin," started with a clipped guitar phrase and a quiet hiss of lyrics about a self-absorbed boyfriend. It built to an overwhelming crescendo as Jimmy Ripp stuck barbed guitar notes into Vincent's thick guitar rhythm and as two female vocalists swelled Vincent's mesmerizing command: "Touch me, but don't talk!"
In the opening set, Stamey departed from the pop accessibility of the dBs for the stark experimentation of his new solo album. He led a quintet that included Raybeat's guitarist Ted Lyons and the female rhythm section of the North Carolina band, Let's Active (which comes to the 9:30 club March 12). Stamey, as always, pitted impulsive rage against a pragmatic coping for a delicious tension. On his new songs--especially "Brushfire in Hoboken" and "It's A Wonderful Life"--the balance was tilted toward the unsettling anger of fractured funk rhythms, desolate vocals and harsh guitar duels between Stamey and Lyons.