Live review: Spottiswoode & His Enemies, Evening Muse (5/3/2014)



Spottiswoode & His Enemies
Evening Muse
May 3, 2014

Spottiswoode & His Enemies
  • Spottiswoode & His Enemies

"Is everybody miserable tonight?" Jonathan Spottiswoode asked with a glint of malign mischief. "Can everyone handle the notion of infinite depression?"

Tousle-haired, scruffy bearded and rumpled suited, the half-English songwriter and carnival ringleader, whom the New York Times proclaims a genius, cut a commanding-yet-approachable figure onstage. Despite his leading query, Spottiswoode's lyric, witty and compassionate songs, as interpreted by his Enemies' telepathic interplay through two exhilarating sets, were anything but depressing - though a skein of everyday angst was woven through Spottiswoode's lyric tapestry.

Set opener "Beautiful Monday" was a case in point. Spottiswoode's acoustic guitar, soft as pastel mist, spun the pastoral folk rocker which saluted the pluck of ordinary people soldiering through their daily grind. Yet fueled by trumpeter Kevin Cordt's insistent, heroic riff, the tune transformed into a glorious paean to the workaday world. Careening from satire to childlike wonder, Spottiswoode and his crack crew punched home a message of triumph tinged with the fantastic, yet grounded in reality.

Greeting Charlotte friends in the audience, chatting with off-kilter charm, Spottiswoode was every bit the eccentric English gentleman. Yet the decisive edge of a Celtic warrior and the brimstone of a Presbyterian preacher bubbled under the surface, bursting out in moments of grandly sweeping drama.

Centered on Cordt's dissonant weeping trumpet, Spottiswoode's rattlesnake harmonica and a bubbling narcotic jazz beat - courtesy of bassist John Young and drummer Tim Vaill - "Cry" was a Brit-pop ditty turned hilariously manic performance art. Spottiswoode screwed his face up like a bawling baby unleashing astonishing primal scream vocals.

On "Wild Goose Chase Expedition," which conflated a band on tour with a lost military patrol, Spottiswoode and cohorts took up position at an imaginary picket and fired their guitars as Cordt's staccato trumpet blared a distress call.

Riding atop keyboardist Tony Lauria's jauntily wheezing Left Bank accordion, "That's What I Like" was Spottiswoode's "look-but-don't-touch" appreciation of the female form. Here Spottiswoode was as perversely theatrical as the Kink's Ray Davies, but he tempered the tune's goofy lechery with a shrugging acceptance of all-too-human foibles.

Material off the band's latest album, English Dream, was less overtly dramatic but no less compelling. Winding tendrils of Spanish guitar, syncopated drums and hissing hi-hat wove the richly textural "Golden Apple" which Spottiswoode dubbed, "part nursery rhyme, part book of Genesis".

Daubed in the saturated hues of a rain washed street in springtime, "Dreamer Boy" evoked the village green psychedelia of the Beatles "Penny Lane" while staying true to the conflicted human heart.

A showman with the soul of a poet, Spottiswoode embraced improvisation. Veering off his set list, he invited good friend Walter Salas of The Silos onstage to perform a tune with the Enemies while Spottiswoode watched raptly from the front row.

This loose but supple flow infused both sets, including the audience in the show as an active participant. The concert felt more like a party or family gathering - assuming your family werered-hot musicians given to outbursts of grand theatrics.

"I love playing the Muse because I'm free to make a fool of myself," Spottiswoode told the enraptured crowd.

Indeed, on Saturday night, Spottiswoode, enabled by his diamond sharp Enemies, was very much a fool - the wise madman who lets kings and emperors proclaim while he zeroes in on the truth with wit, heart and humor.

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