Live Review: Mal Madrigal…

Category: Blog — @ 1:25 pm December 26, 2007

Hope you’re having a good holiday. The Lazy-i Year in Review article goes online tomorrow, and with it, the usual “best of” lists and the annual Lazy-i Best of 2007 CD track listing and contest. Yes, I put together another comp disc this year, and you can enter to win a copy. Details tomorrow.

Some late reflections on last Saturday’s Mal Madrigal album release show at Slowdown: Steve Bartolomei is the best male vocalist of anyone in the local scene these days. His voice is rich and pure and without any affectations. There are other good singers around town, but most of them have some sort of made-up style or nuance that seems unnatural, and as a result, takes away from their performance. They would deny this, but anyone in the audience can pick out their forced stylization. Bartolomei doesn’t try to create something in his voice that isn’t there. He merely sings his songs, and that’s enough. You could argue that he doesn’t have much range, but few male vocalists around here do. He could certainly go above or below his comfort zone, but that’s more of a criticism of his songwriting than his voice. If there’s a stone to throw at Bartolomei’s music, it’s that his melodies often are too narrow and can be forgettable. He makes up for this drawback with a first-rate band that makes everything sound lush and gorgeous, especially on the vinyl. The show was clearly one of the best sounding live performances I’ve seen on Slowdown’s big stage, and as always, I had to wonder if this band will ever get what’s due to it by going out on a respectable tour — not just to Kansas City and Des Moines, but to the East and West Coasts. The only way that’s going to happen is if one of the established Saddle Creek bands takes them under their wing as a tour opener. Mal Madrigal would be a natural opener for Bright Eyes, Mayday, The Good Life, Art in Manila, Maria Taylor and Neva Dinova, to name a few. Unfortunately, Mal Madrigal isn’t part of the Saddle Creek stable, even though Bartolomei has toured with a number of these bands (as part of their bands). Could the entire Mal Madrigal ensemble go on the road for three or four weeks? That’s the big question.

I got to Slowdown early enough to see Ted Stevens do his solo set, starting out on ukulele then moving to guitar. Stevens goes in whatever direction he wants to, and I don’t think he cares if you come along for the ride or not. He’s content going his own way, singing for an audience of one. As accessible as Stevens can sound on stage, he’s one of the most experimental singer/songwriters performing today. He ended his set with a song where he seemingly turned his electric guitar into a sitar. In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Stevens had pulled a sitar from back stage. What will he do Friday night when Mayday plays at The Waiting Room?

I watched most of Mal Madrigal’s set from the balcony, looking down at a full floor below. The draw was much larger than I expected. Good thing they didn’t hold this in Slowdown Jr. — that would have been uncomfortable. Judging by the crowd around the merch table and the people walking around with copies of the album, Bartolomei moved a lot vinyl Saturday night.

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