Our man Alex McManus (a.k.a. The Bruces) was already on stage with drummer Chris Deden when I finally showed up at Sokol Underground Friday night, having missed the entire Simon Joyner and the Wind-up Birds set — a set that I’m told was one of the best Joyner performances in recent history (all the more painful considering it may be quite awhile ’til I get a chance to see them again). McManus never seemed more confident in voice, belting out his tunes while bending his electric guitar in all directions, doing just fine only with Deden’s drums (Who needs a bass these days?). He’s reminding more and more of a looser, groovier version of John Darnielle, with songs that sport the same sameness of melody as Mr. Mountain Goats, songs that depend on the stories to keep them interesting, along with his stylistic guitar playing honed to a bitter edge after years and years of sideman duties for other good songwriters. McManus seemed, dare I say it, happy on stage, which is more than you can say about a lot of indie troubadours these days.
Head of Femur — performing as a five-piece — came out of the gate somewhat stiff and less than dynamic. Part of the problem was a flat mix that seemed to blend everything into a gray sonic stew. Focht still did an admirable job with the stripped-down version, though prog this proggy demands those extra instruments (the trumpet was sorely missing) to give it the wind it needs to take off. Highlights included a number of covers, the best of which was a take on The Rolling Stone’s “100 Years Ago.” As the night wore on, the band picked up steam (again, I credit the mix, or maybe it was the Rolling Rock), and an uneventful set turned out to be respectable, but far from the best Femur show I’ve seen. Crowd size: 125.
And in this holiday season when we’re surrounded by good Samaritan stories, here’s a great one from the Daily Freeman that involves our boy Conor Oberst, who did what he could to give a couple Boston girls badly burned in a house fire at least one evening to try to forget their troubles. From the story: “Peone (the mother of the two girls hurt in the blaze) said a friend arranged for the family to see the band Bright Eyes, a favorite of Dina and Angie. They especially like frontman Conor Oberst. ‘Dina and Angie are crazy about him,’ Peone said. ‘They treated us like queens. We went backstage, and Conor kneeled down in front of Dina’s wheelchair and took her hand. She was over the moon. They gave us CDs and posters and T-shirts. We had great seats and they dedicated a song to my girls.'” Nice.
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