Kirin J. Callinan - I try to do as little research as possible about the support bands I see, and unless I have multiple choices of shows (like tonight), I won't listen to or read about the headliner either. If I read other reviews, they may mention band comparisons that will cause me to debate including them or trying exclude them, even though they make sense. I do read artist websites and Facebook pages right as I start to write, which causes some of my notes to come into a sharp focus. Such as with Kirin J. Callinan, who I had thought was from the UK. My notes are full of how much he reminds me of Nick Cave and now I see he is from Australia. So that makes perfect sense and it says a lot about the music we got tonight. I also saw some hard-edged Bowie here, as Callinan has a heavy dramatic style with a big voice. He has an intense guitar style and is backed with a drummer and bass player who also adds plenty of electronics into this thick modern sound. There is also a goth Munly Munly style and look going on here. Callinan walks a tight rope between accessible songs and challenging bravado and manages the trip with fully composed balance. He's not working with a net, though, as there is and edgy vibe throughout his 46 minute set, no less so than when he engages in strange whispering stage patter. This is strong material and quite exciting to hear live. I am not sure what the small crowd thought of it, but I bet they have a strong opinion.
Jenny Hval - Also with a brief residence in Australia, Norwegian Jenny Hval leads an eclectic trio in some of the more fascinating music you will find on tour. Hval has a voice that can handle any straight up rock or pop song, but she also has the ability and creativity to twist it into unexpected turns--jazz like, but not jazz. Her voice is half ethereal, half grounded. Kate Bush comes to mind, as she often will any time you see something highly creative in a pop rock context. I am also reminded of the sadly missed Sian Alice Group, as this band works similar terrain with a mixture of sparse and full arrangements that are highly mysterious and utterly absorbing. After a few challenging quiet songs, the trio kicks into a grooving rocker that reminds me of a smoother Wooden Shjips, which is quite a jolt. After that her guitarist does some great Andy Gill (Gof4) riffs to some of her Bush-like vocals, as they twist their set into even more remarkable directions. This was a very cool set and I am glad I chose this show of the choices I had tonight. The others were probably good, well attended, but I bet were a lot safer. These two artists and their bands remind you of the unexplored corners of music that open up new parts of your mind, yet are fully accessible for those up to even the most minor of challenges. Bravo.
Plug of the Night: Folkworld Issue 52 is out now and is filled with the usually great coverage of the extended folk scene on this planet. There are bucketfuls of album reviews that you won't see here, plus some reprints of some of my live folk and folk-esque show reviews. Check it out.