How does a band declare its independence without severing ties to the past? emmet swimming has pulled off the trick by recording a live album that boldly marks their departure from a major label and yet celebrates many of the songs they've previously recorded.
Taped at the 9:30 club in Washington and Alley Katz in Richmond, the Fairfax-bred quartet revisits more than a dozen tunes, infusing many of them with a bar band energy that seldom survived the band's studio efforts. If these shows weren't exactly liberating experiences for the group, they nevertheless come across that way, fueled by now vibrant, now passionate, now colorfully recast versions of "Arlington," "South Bristol, ME," "Jump in the Water," "Sunblock" and other tunes worth reprising. Clearly lead singer Todd Watts, who boasts the band's trademark baritone, viewed these concerts as something more than just a casual stroll down memory lane. That's apparent even when he knows he'll be sharing the vocals with the crowd on the anthemic (and amusingly rearranged) "Arlington."
While the only new tune, "Playing House," is a droll leftover from the band's 1998 album "Big Night Without You," the real unexpected treats are Watts's soulful interpretation of Billy Bragg's "Levi Stubbs' Tears" and the album's full-tilt, freewheeling coda, inspired by the Police's "So Lonely."
Appearing Sunday at the Backyard BBQ at 19th & M streets NW. To hear a free Sound Bite from emmet swimming, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8122. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)