Sometimes you can tell an evening is going to be special just by looking at the audience, particularly if the audience is composed almost entirely of musicians from bands not on the current night’s lineup. So it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, as Luna’s Café presented a bill including J. Greenberg, Jessica Cuckovich, Kevin Dockter and Amber Padgett. In addition to various family members gathered together for the holidays (the Greenbergs and Cuckovichs seemed particularly prevalent), the frequent show-goer might have spotted members of Jackpot, Milwaukee, the Proles, Low Flying Owls, Spider Silk Dress, Giant Squid and Frank Jordan, as well as singer-songwriter David Houston in the audience—an impressive showing for a weirdly impressive show.
The first time I heard Cuckovich play was when she was ably subbing for Mike Visser’s broken hand in Frank Jordan. Cuckovich’s own material swims with a sort of strange innocence, a facet that comes mostly from her vocal style. It is a style that’s reminiscent, in both divergent but similar directions, of both The Wizard of Oz-era Judy Garland and the oddball tracks that Mo Tucker sings with the Velvet Underground. Like Tucker, the songs have a sort of disjointed joy-amid-sadness; like Garland, there’s a surety of tone and clarity of style caught up in innocence.
That sense of innocence continued into Dockter’s set. Performing solo on acoustic guitar, Dockter (who also plays guitar in Spider Silk Dress), possesses a breathy, papery voice much like Nick Drake’s, and his songwriting is in a similar style. (Some listeners might remember the late songwriter from the Volkswagen commercial featuring one of his signature songs, “Pink Moon,” although Drake’s “Black-Eyed Dog” might be a more apt comparison to Dockter.) What distinguishes Dockter’s approach is his vocals, the melodies of which seem, at times, to be coming from an entirely different universe. It’s the same kind of Martian logic that dictated acid casualty Syd Barrett’s vocal melodies on his last recordings, and its very weirdness makes Dockter’s music well worth listening to.
Padgett herself, the evening’s headliner, was in terrific form, mostly performing songs from Spider Silk Dress’ new release, Tincture, with guitar accompaniment from Dockter. She’s always been well worth checking out, and, in many ways, I prefer her more intimate solo performances to her band, even though the latter is terrific. Angular songwriting with beautiful, torch-song vocals. Check out www.spidersilkdress.com for samples.
On the eve of recording his band’s new album, Aaron Gregory of Giant Squid has reported that the band has picked up a new drummer: Mike Conroy of B-Sexuals. How will a dance-beat drummer fit with the sturm und drang of Giant Squid? Who can say. Watch www.giantsquidmusic.com for details as they unfold.
Meanwhile, terrific progressive-rock outfit Mister Metaphor has called it quits, and, judging from the band’s Web site (at www.mistermetaphor .com), the split doesn’t sound altogether amicable. The good news is that the now-defunct band’s merch is going for cheap, cheap, cheap on its Web site. Go there and invest heavily.
Last, a quick best wishes to my now-former arts editor, Jackson Griffith. Best of luck in your future endeavors, and I’ll see you on the town. (And be careful, because now I can review you. The mind boggles!)