March 23, 2006

SXSW Report #12: The Gena Rowlands Band @ the Karma Lounge

After Serena Maneesh’s scorching set, I quickly left the outside stage of Emo’s and walked to the secluded Karma Lounge to see the Gena Rowlands Band. Although I was dismayed at how few people were at the Lounge (especially since local favorites the Weird Weeds had just finished their showcase shortly before I arrived), I was glad that I could watch the GRB perform without a mob of photographers obstructing my view. The GRB recently released The Nitrate Hymnal, an album of songs taken from an opera that singer/guitarist Bob Massey wrote with a full orchestra. Because of their compact quartet lineup, though, they could only play one song from it this evening. Everything else in their set came from their equally amazing 2005 debut La Merde et Les Etoiles.

After gently urging the audience to stand closer to the stage, Massey played the opening chords to “Garofalo C’est Moi,” a song that made me cry the first time I heard it, even though I knew it was a sarcastic ode to a comedienne. Massey’s sonorous tenor oozed wistfulness and resignation. The violinist played weepy fills that underscored the pathos in lines like “I finally found what love is/Love is only in the movies/Now everything in this house is on fire.” The keyboardist played dense clouds of low end that drifted in and out of the music, compensating for the absence of actual bass. Nick Hennies subbed for GRB’s regular drummer this evening, and it was the first time I’d heard him play outside of his work with the Weird Weeds. He navigated the song’s frequent stops and starts so well that if he hadn’t told me that he only rehearsed it once, I wouldn’t have known. Whether it was the straight 4/4 of “The Last Words of Lesley Gore” or the arrhythmic frenzy of “Kong Meets His Maker,” Nick’s playing served the songs perfectly. Instead of talking between songs, Massey flipped through elaborately decorated poster boards with the song titles on them, which I thought was a nice touch. I also liked his decision to sing the last song of his set far away from the microphone. He successfully quieted the audience and drew them even closer to him. The GRB wasn’t the loudest band I saw last Wednesday, but they were certainly the most affecting.

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