There are live shows that make me resent the smoking ban, and A.A. Bondy's set at the Jackpot on Friday night was one of them.
Blending moody Americana with disaffected blues, Bondy's songwriting pinpointed the sound of coming down from a bender in a rural Midwestern town. Gruff, distorted vocals and lingering electric guitar conjured the howl of coal trains and the grit of gravel throughout Bondy's short set, which focused on his 2009 release When the Devil's Loose.
With lanky limbs and chiseled features, Bondy resembled
a modern Townes Van Zandt. A revolving line-up of band members floated on and
off stage from song to song, providing howling lap steel and wavering back-up
guitar for what was essentially a one-man show. (For a majority of the set, the
empty rap of Bondy's knuckles on his acoustic guitar was the only percussion.)
Bondy is careful what he culls from his country influences,
trading traditional tears-and-beers sentimentalism for a harder
blood-and-whiskey sorrow. Heavy reverb insulated Bondy's simple songwriting on
stripped-down tracks like "There's A Reason" and "Mightiest of Guns." Though
stoic on stage, Bondy's quavering vocals and wailing harmonica on "Rapture,
Sweet Rapture" were emotional confessions as frank as his song lyrics. Lighter
numbers were pulled from Bondy's 2007 release American Hearts, filling the space between Bondy's drunken lullabies
with stomping blues jams. "Killed Myself When I Was Young" was a particular
highlight, harnessing the tension of Bondy's tight beats with a folk-punk
Errant noise and laughter from the crowd shattered the fragile rapport Bondy was building at times, but Bondy eventually quelled
the chatter from the bar with a continuous haze of sound by turning his tuning
between songs into folky interludes. (Speaking of hazy atmospherics: It wasn't
until the end of the set that I realized what Bondy was chewing during the last
several numbers. It wasn't dip; it was gum. I have to admit, the chewing gum
killed the mood for me a bit.) But with all of the aching sincerity in Bondy's
set, it's comforting that his woozy sadness doesn't eclipse his sense of humor.
"I'm just causing trouble," Bondy quipped under his breath, messing with his guitar and mic stand between tunes.
Bondy closed out his performance with an Americana blues-jam
with his building ballad "A Slow Parade." Keeping with his man-of-few-words
persona, Bondy's farewell to the crowd was filtered through the reverb, echoing
eerily throughout the venue. "Th-th-th-thank you," Bondy mumbled with an
awkward wave, hopping off the stage nonchalantly. The crowd blinked, as though
coming out of a trance: Bondy certainly hadn't lulled us to sleep, but his Southern
gothic folk tales had taken on a dream-like life of their own.
There's A Reason
Oh the Vampyre
Mightiest Of Guns
I Can See the Pines Are Dancing
Black Rain, Black Rain
Rapture (Sweet Rapture)
When the Devil's Loose
Killed Myself When I Was Young
A Slow Parade