The Best Concerts of the Year page is an annual tradition here. With everything else going on lately, it’s been tempting to just make 2013 a wrap right now – after all, the last few weeks of the year are pretty much a wash, right? That would have been a mistake, because the list would have left out LJ Murphy & the Accomplices‘ explosive show this past Saturday night at the Parkside. Other than the fact that he’s a great showman with an amazing band and a deep catalog of savagely lyrical songs, what makes Murphy’s live shows so consistently interesting is that he’s always reinventing the material. For example, ten years ago, he was doing Comfortable Cage as a plaintive minor-key dirge. This time out, he reworked it into a much subtler, noir Orbison pop groove that was a lot more upbeat yet packed twice the wallop. A little later, the band picked up the pace even more and gave an extra jolt of electricity to Saturday’s Down, an understatedly haunting account of watching a respite from the trials of the work week slip away:
The morning came a bit too late as usual today
The sunshine made its case and was abruptly pushed away
Coffee burnt beyond description, bread as hard as stone
The stranger in the mirror said you’re spending too much time alone
A Sweetheart of the Rodeo sway masked the venom in Imperfect Strangers, pianist Patrick McLellan’s fiery chords and ripples raising the ante – “Don’t kid yourself until he calls you in the morning, I don’t want to hear you say he never gave you warning,” Murphy insisted. And then they hit a doublespeed soul-clap groove.
Over a slinky latin soul beat, the defiant Another Lesson I Never Learned wound up with a bitingly enigmatic series of tradeoffs between Murphy’s vocals and the piano. Then they took it down for a bit with This Is Nothing Like Bliss, a morose soul ballad about a hookup gone drastically wrong, then took it back up again.
In his signature porkpie hat and black suit, Murphy twitched and stutter-stepped like a pre-angel dust James Brown in front of the band as they made their into way through the Stax/Volt shuffle Happy Hour, a reminder that the people at the office that you can’t stand are even more obnoxious once they’ve had a few. Mad Within Reason, the title track to Murphy’s brilliant, most recent album, careened along on with a phantasmagical Weimar blues pulse:
Sinews and cobwebs have clung to our lips
Cnd crosses and pistols are hung from our hips
Cried for my supper, then spat on the plate
While everyone tried to become what they hate
The industry captain, smile on his face
So proud of the changes he’s made to this place
Lead guitarist Tommy Hoscheid alternated between judicious Memphis licks, a Stonesy growl and finally a flurry of slasher tremolo-picking over the sway of Brothers Moving‘s Nils Sorensen’s bass and Carlos Hernandez’s drums. The best song of the night was a recently resurrected classic, Pretty for the Parlor, adding a little deadpan country glitter to the grimly bouncing tale of a sniper hellbent on picking off a few poor suckers in some outer-borough hell. After that, they segued out of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue into Stormy Monday and then back again. At the end of the show, after the last of the encores (a roaring version of the sardonically titled Blue Silence) Murphy wryly stole a page out of the Muddy Waters book and led the group through a couple of lickety-split choruses of I Got My Mojo Working. In a year packed with transcendent live shows, this was one of the best – and the sound at the club, hit-and-miss in years past, was great! Lesson learned – watch for the Best Concerts of 2013 page here at the END of the year.