Bobby Bare Jr. opened his set at Iota on Monday night with a new song, "Valentine," that set an impressive template for much of what followed. Accompanied by the four members of his Young Criminals' Starvation League, the song took a mid-tempo melody and stacked layers of powerful instrumentation -- including an electric slide guitar, keyboard and a double bass that was alternately bowed and beaten -- until all the parts cascaded into musical fury.
It also alerted the sizable audience to the dark humor of Bare's songs: This one may be named after the holiday of love, but the revealing line repeated in the chorus is "I killed my valentine."
An inveterate rocker, Bare has wisely stepped out of any shadow cast by his better-known father, the influential country singer Bobby Bare; the only country sound of the night was in a version of Shel Silverstein's "Things I Didn't Say," and even that was made memorable by a galloping onslaught of a chorus. Bare's voice is a cotton-swathed high tenor that fit preternaturally with the unlikely cover of the Smiths' "What Difference Does It Make?," matching Morrissey's famous warble nearly note for note.
Show opener Tom Heinl's novel "stereoke" act found the likable Oregon native channeling Andy Kaufman through Tom Waits. Singing to full-band versions of his songs played on a small tape player, Heinl offered funny-sad songs about Christmas trees on fire, $100 Ford Pintos, late nights at the pancake house and the results of relieving oneself into an empty bottle just as your dad hits a pothole with the car.
At various points Heinl played a metal gasoline can by blowing into it, waved a tube sock at an imaginary burning tree and sat down to read entries from his fifth-grade journal. Was he serious? Absolutely. Then again . . . .
-- Buzz McClain