Deep Noir at the Delancey
A lot of what And the Wiremen play is southwestern gothic, all eerie desert atmospherics and images of death and disillusion, but they put their own spin on the style, sometimes minimalist, sometimes thrashing it a little. They’re sort of a darker, more raw, masculine counterpart to Las Rubias del Norte. Last night’s show at Small Beast at the Delancey was their nocturne set, just bandleader Lynn Wright on guitar and vocals plus upright bass and trumpet. A brooding bolero set the tone for the night with reverb-heavy guitar plus trumpet snaking its way ominously into the mix. Wright took a short solo that was like an attack with a dull knife, guaranteed to make things ugly, and it fit perfectly against the stately angst of the tune.
The next tune had a slinky, creepy bluesy bounce. “I pick myself up slowly so I can fall back down and crawl again,” Wright sang while the trumpet flickered around the edges. He ended it a-cappella: “If I leave, no one else is coming,” like Tom Waits without the cliches. They brought a hypnotic, quietly imploring ambience with the next tune, Wright’s single ringing, noir chord setting off an apprehensive trumpet solo sailing over a simple, repetitive indie rock riff. The rest of the set mixed oldtime blues with minor-key border ballad menace, Telecaster echoing into the chill of the night. One of the reasons why the songs work so well is because of how Wright sings them. He doesn’t Tom Waits them, or Pearl Jam them. He’s just himself, with a midrangey voice that’s unselfconscious and often plaintive, that sometimes reaches toward an anguished wail but doesn’t quite get there. Honest artistry, plain and simple.
The next act, the Reid Paley Trio waited patiently for the house music to come down, and then Paley decided to take charge, turning his guitar amp up all the way until the murky roar drowned it out. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” Paley announced with a cruel grin. Silence. “You’re easily intimidated,” he said coldly, and he was right: much of the audience tiptoed out a couple of songs later. Paley doesn’t suffer fools gladly – for that matter, he doesn’t seem to suffer anything gladly. This is a guy who’s used to playing to much bigger and more responsive crowds – how was he going to handle this shrinking Monday night gathering? Was he going to tune down the intensity? Nope. Baiting and taunting those who remained, he left no question that as long as he was onstage, he was in charge, brutally charismatic and as usual, pretty hilarious. As he lit into the twisted gypsy-rock swing of the first song, Yr Polish Uncle, he was a live wire, twitching and half-spinning as he sang: ““I swear on the back of my forty-third abortion, I see your devil peering round the door.”
The question with Paley is how much of this is shtick – it could be all shtick – and how much is the real thing, something that’s never certain and for that reason it might make sense to keep a safe distance. The crowd tittered nervously as he tried to engage them. At the very end of the sarcastically swaying, ghoulabilly-tinged Everything’s Going Wrong, right before the final, sardonic “but that’s ok” of the last chorus, Paley stopped the song cold. And then looked around. “I like this,” he said, after about twenty seconds of silence – and then stood there. Nobody knew how to react, or really wanted to. “How many people here are not bored?” Paley asked. Again, silence. “OK, I’ll have to send you all a fruit basket,” he snarled. When the pregnant pause had finally grown to the point where the audience’s water was about to burst, he ripped into it and took it out with a sarcastic flourish.
Later on he told a brief anecdote about getting stoned with Sun Ra. “I see the fourth dimension,” he related nonchalantly – and who knows? The rest of the songs reached back to a blackly amusing, blues-infused ambience: a surprisingly gorgeous 6/8 ballad floating along on Paley’s richly sustained chords, a couple of assaultive Tom Waits-ish numbers and the surreal, drunken swing of Stay Awhile, which closed out the set. “Gimme another fucking goddamn drink, stay awhile,” Paley grumbled. As the song wound up, the question was how nuts Paley would go to end it and while he didn’t break his guitar – you don’t break beautiful vintage1950s hollow-body models – he did torture it with a maniacal blast of tremolo-picking. It was the most intense moment in a night full of many. Paley has a new collaboration with Frank Black – who’s covered several of Paley’s songs – due out a little later this fall.