Mississippi’s compelling A.A. Bondy performed at the Bootleg Theater last month, and memories from the show are still swirling around in my head. When The Devil’s Loose is the kind of album that creeps up on you and slowly becomes essential; I just recently bought his debut album American Hearts, and plan to get the new Believers, which is streaming on NPR Music. Bondy’s music is not easily categorized – it’s not quite Americana, and not obviously folk, although it borrows a bit from both. American Hearts does have more of a Dylan influence than the succeeding albums. Ultimately the genre doesn’t matter at all, only his strong songwriting, poetic lyrics and that amazing voice: just lightly hoarse, fragile but still rough, and wistful.
Bondy started off the show with the ominous-sounding “Heart is Willing” from Believers, wearing sunglasses, which might have been pretentious except for the fact that he only nodded and smiled or said humble thank you’s in between the first few songs. Handsome but painfully thin, he also hopped up and down a few times during those pauses, as if to say “let’s go, let’s go” to his talented backing band, about whom he later said, “I love how focused they are.” He also took a moment to thank the crowd for dealing with the concert’s date change, and as he spoke, let his voice drop deeper and deeper until everyone started giggling.
The setlist included “Surfer King” and “Hiway/Fevers” from Believers, “Rapture, Sweet Rapture” from American Hearts and When The Devil’s Loose’s title track and “A Slow Parade”, the latter of which has a gorgeous ending that was truly spectacular live. I got goosebumps. The band played before a large screen showing footage of a rolling ocean, adding to the swooning effect of the music. Bondy announced it was his grandparents’ anniversary and introduced the band members, stopping to demand exactly where the lead guitarist was from – they were all from the south or midwest. Incidentally, another online review of this show claims the crowd was full of hipsters, but the atmosphere there felt homey and positive. There was certainly no one standing around looking critical. (But hey, these Youtube clips are by ‘hipster73’.)
As full as the crowd was, I felt like it was just me and my beer, being serenaded straight down to my bones. It was my favorite concert of 2011 so far.
When the band left the stage, a long, long wait ensued, during which I decided twice that we were all just being silly and the show was over. Then finally Bondy came back out to do a solo encore, saying, jokingly, “Sorry…I didn’t understand.” He played “Vice Rag” from American Hearts with its cheerfully self-destructive lyrics, and quite a few others, while the crowd stood faithfully hanging onto every word.
Youtube videos via hipster73