With John Ralston
The Speakeasy Lounge, Lake Worth
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Better Than: Proposing at a baseball game.
San Francisco singer/songwriter John Vanderslice had stories aplenty during his Thursday-evening gig at Lake Worth's charming den of sounds, the Speakeasy Lounge. And one was about his rental car, which was only $11.95 a day! "We should all rent cars and go fucking crazy," the bleached-blond fella told the masses sprinkled around the low-ceilinged room filled with mirrored walls and support beams not round enough to be considered stripper poles. Although some folks were close enough to the blacklight-lit stage "for me to see your dental work," plenty opted to hang back.
Vanderslice's songs are brimming with personal details -- many that the assembled crowd knew by heart -- and thus it's easy to call him a songwriter's songwriter in the realm of Andrew Bird or Iron and Wine's Sam Beam. Since he performed the majority of the material all by himself, with only a well-worn acoustic guitar, it was imperative to keep things moving along. Hence, the abundance of stories between songs, quite a few face crinkles, some leans up against a support beam onstage, a few rhythmic knocks on the body of his instrument, and the admission that he was "really high on sugar right now."
The rousing call to action "Pale Horse," from 2004's Cellar Door, figured in early in a set that proved to hop all over Vanderslice's loaded body of work from the past decade. "Overcoat" was one of two songs from his newest collection, the bold orchestral work White Wilderness. And though it was stripped of the album's string and percussion accompaniment, he pushed the imagery of his latch-key upbringing in Potomac, Maryland, to fill in those gaps with ease.
Although Vanderslice did his best to be captivating, he was more than willing to cede the spotlight to a sharply dressed guy from Boynton Beach named Vinnie, who wanted to come up and sing "Promising Actress." Or did he? Actually, Vin pulled a ring out of his pocket and asked his unsuspecting lady friend Jen to marry him. Then Vanderslice got to the business of playing the song as the pair slow-danced in front. It was a pleasant sort of surprise and provided uplift to the small-town feel of the evening -- moreso than our entertainer recalling witnessing police cars swarming around a shooting suspect a couple of blocks down Federal Highway earlier that day.
For the last couple of songs, Vanderslice brought Lake Worth's own songwriter extraordinaire John Ralston and his band back to the stage. Earlier, they had muscled through the roots-rock of Shadows of the Summertime with a few tambourine assists from Grey & Orange drummer Jesse Dalton and some keyboard work by Chris Horgan rivaling Bruce Hornsby (or jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, according to another audience member). "Jenny With the Long, Dark Hair" from Ralston's White Spiders EP had brought out the dudes' wildest, scuzziest playing of the night, and getting paired up with Vanderslice gave his set a needed punch at the end.
Two of the songs with Ralston's band backing him were performed on the floor with the crowd surrounding a twirling Vanderslice madly cutting through the air with his headstock -- a load of vocal participation on "White Dove" especially. But prior to that, "Keep the Dream Alive" featured guitar solos by Ralston and Horgan, a bass solo by Dan Bonebrake, and some kit-smashing by Jeff Snow -- all when Vanderslice pointed at each of them. It was certainly the finest basement jam session in all of South Florida that night.
From the stage: "This is the best Thursday I've had in a while; this is the best Friday I've had in a while." -- John Ralston
From the stage 2: "My wife is French, and she hates football so much. She can't understand why I like watching 30 people get up slowly." -- John Vanderslice
The crowd: A multigenerational group of folks who know every single John Vanderslice song by heart and aren't afraid to sing along.
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John Vanderslice Set List
I'll Never Live Up to You
Sunken Union Boat
Song from Moon Colony Bloodbath
Too Much Time
Dear Sarah Shu
After It Ends
Keep the Dream Alive
Time to Go