Better Than: Anything else going down on Atlantic Avenue on Friday night
Once the waiters start clearing the tables away from the front entrance of Delray hotspot Dada, it's clear that it's no longer tuna tartare time. (Well, the kitchen does stay open pretty darn late.) Local psychobilly trio Viva Le Vox has been maintaining a semi-regular first Friday residency at the trendy restaurant-cum-lounge for quite some time. This spectacle of a band always lays it all out at their gigs, and Friday, August 7 was no exception.
The evening began with the affable regular-Joe opener, Fort Lauderdale singer-songwriter Alex Nelson. The handful of electro-acoustic numbers on his MySpace page come across as emotive, coffee house-style folksy numbers with touches of keyboards, kind of a cross between a lo-fi Badly Drawn Boy and early Dashboard Confessional. But Friday, as Nelson set up more and more gear, it seemed that as a live performer he would be entirely different.
Nelson's live set did maintain all of the vulnerable introspection of his demo tracks. But instead of gently laying out his lovelorn verses, he turned them instead into full-throttle raspy yelpers, putting even more angst into his I've-been-dumped-so-bad catalog. On songs like "Mistake" and "St. Petersburg" Nelson belted out cathartic choruses that teetered in and out of key over grungy guitar licks. No song captured Nelson's trademark mood of despair as much as set ender "Not My Life." He played this one without its usual keyboard intro, opting to go a cappella, singing over and over the plea, "This is not my life."
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It was then time for Viva Le Vox. Most of the diners who had stuck around to watch Nelson had already trickled out, so the threesome's performance was a pretty private affair. Band member Jim Bob "Scarecrow" Jenkins revealed a sweet red upright bass as vocalist/guitarist Tony Bones unveiled his vintage microphone, and thus the excitement began.
I recently wrote about Jenkins' over-the-top showmanship when his band played with Dooms De Pop at the Red Eye show at Art Serve. Friday night's performance was much of the same. Donning a Mexican sombrero, he straddled his bull fiddle and rode it like a wild stallion to the back beat on "Down at the Laundromat." He plucked those strings so fiercely, in fact, that he must have awoken with Texas-size blisters the next morning.
Accordion player Paultergeist joined the troupe on its sinister rendition of the much-covered blues tune "'Stagger Lee." Bones' vocals were crooning like a villainous Elvis on this one, with drippy Energizer bunny reverb (it just kept going and going). By this point in the set a considerable amount of Viva Le Vox's tattooed following had amassed inside the cozy living room space of Dada -- perhaps they really don't come out until midnight -- and the show became quite the raucous affair. The guys of Viva Le Vox kept their freaky contingent swooping and swaying till the wee hours.
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Personal Bias: Fantastic culinary delights followed by freakish psychobilly, could there be a better way to spend the evening?
Random Detail: "Scarecrow" Jenkins' stand-up bass was a hand me down from a Mexican neighbor. Maybe his sombrero was, too?
By The Way: If you want to hear the emotive-folkster version of Alex Nelson (his incarnation I like best), look for his new album Everything You Wanted To Say But Didn't, set to come out later this month.
-- Alex Rendon