A quirky southern folk rock that will send you into a spin
Half a dozen years ago I regularly attended concerts in the dark and smaller halls of inner-Brisbane with a guy named Mick. We had very similar musical tastes and if Lambchop, Vic Chesnutt or Micah P. Hinson were in town we’d be sure to show up.
Not that I ever saw Mick but I knew he was there. At the time we worked together at The Courier-Mail, he was a young newcomer to journalism with the mark of a good writer possessed of a keen eye for those specialist fields, music and sports.
I knew Mick was there because most of the time after he’d leave the now sadly departed Troubadour or the Zoo, he’d clock on for the graveyard police rounds shift at the paper and there in my inbox the next day would be a note about how much he’d enjoyed the music of the night before.
Mick’s favourites included those giants, Mr Bob Dylan and the late Mr Townes Van Zandt, but we’d often swap notes on new talent.
The best artist Mick ever tipped to me was a young guy from Alabama, A.A. Bondy who’d debuted with a nifty disc called American Hearts. It was that kind of quirky southern folk rock, pushed along by a languid and humid vocal and an acute song-writing talent.
Two more discs have followed, the spectacular When The Devil’s Loose and last year’s Believers, and Auguste Arthur Bondy, known to friends as Scott, has carved himself a niche in modern Americana music, mixing it up with hints of other upstarts like Ryan Adams and Justin Townes Earle and older guys like Bruce Springsteen, Jim White and Tom Russell. At times you get echoes of early Neil Young.
It’s that cocktail of folk and blues with some country rock, layered occasionally with a sonic soundscape that would have sent the 1988 Nirvana boys into a spin.
Mr Bondy has just left Australia after a barely noticed but highly entertaining tour with three compadres – Macey Taylor (also seen in Conor Oberst’s Mystic Valley Band) on bass and keys, drummer Nick Kinsey (sticks and skins with Elvis Perkins) and Greg Farley (a sometimes member of the Felice Brothers).
It was an all-star band for the lowly of birth, the hard drinkers who sit in wooden houses in the northern reaches of New York State and write songs about the bitter side of life.
At his last show in Australia, at Brisbane’s Powerhouse, Mr Bondy kicked off proceedings with the opening track from Believers, a film noir tune called The Heart is Willing which has the weight of a graveyard storyteller and the rocking sensibility of that late night song that makes you want to stay a while.
Littered with themes of chasing death – and being chased by it – and playing the hunted and the hunter, Mr Bondy’s songs are deliberately bleak but contain enough of the cynic’s self-mocking humour to keep your account open. Elsewhere, there’s takes on the simple life, the hangover fog, the empty streets on the edge of town and the pit between desire and loss.
The real highlights of a show that was full of delights and surprises were the penultimate tune from Believers, the epic Rte 28/Believers, and the title song from album number 2, When the Devil’s Loose.
The former clocks in at seven or so minutes and is in the groove of an existential struggle – with “the killer inside” – and that endless, fruitless, questing that underwrites rock and roll.
The latter is Mr Bondy’s kickarse hit – if he’d ever have one – with a slouching rock beat and a lyric that gets you like a first time kiss.
“Up where the evening sun, the river rolls by/the neighbours they tell secrets, the neighbours they tell lies/And somewhere the plane went down, these things they never stop/Somebody feels the knife and somebody calls the cops,” he sings over a jangly hook from his rhythm guitar.
It was a night to remember, as every bit as intoxicating as the gig performed in the same space last year by his friend and sometime accomplice Simone Felice.
Mr Bondy said he’d be back and if he does return don’t miss him. Meanwhile, track down his music, particularly those last two albums. They’re genuine keepers.
I didn’t see Mick at the gig – he left journalism for lawyering and some international travel. I presume he wasn’t there because there wasn’t an email the next day.
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