Charlene Kaye Rules the Rockwood
Last night Charlene Kaye played a fun, fascinating set of catchy, eclectic powerpop at the Rockwood. She’s got a classic pop sensibility, but with an edge. Playing a beautiful black-and-white Les Paul and backed only by drums, she made her notes count and sang in a cool, thoughtful voice that mirrored the thoughtfulness of her lyrics, occasionally soaring up to unexpected heights. The Les Paul is a new acquisition: she bought it since she’d just joined an all-female Guns & Roses cover band called Guns & Hoses (don’t bother googling unless you’re looking for a Port Authority cop blog or an Indiana cover band made up of cops and firefighters). And don’t hold it against her – her own songs don’t sound the slightest bit corporate.
Kaye plays with effortless intelligence and agility, moving all over the fretboard. She started the set using crunchy distortion. A little later, she switched to an unorthodox tuning for some neatly reverberating, overtone-laden, jangly chords and fills, eventually bringing back the crunch. One of the best songs of the set came early, a stomping boogie with jazzy vocals and a wailing, crescendoing bridge that jumped out of nowhere. The shuffling tune after that sounded like a ballsier version of Heart of Glass. She went back to a torchy vibe for a long, pensive waltz that had the feel of a Patsy Cline classic, and then another gorgeous, jazz-tinged number where she let the lyrics tumble out with a restrained Chrissie Hynde soulfulness before cutting loose when the drums kicked in with her crashing chords. The upbeat, ridiculously catchy pop hit that followed had a fun, wordless singalong that sounded like Men at Work with a Ph. D. Toward the end of the show, she brought out some intriguing new material from a forthcoming album, including the smoldering, unpredictable Animal Love and then its far more gentle follow-up, Animal Love Pt. 2 as an encore. Between songs, the room was silent: if there’s any need for proof that there’s a mass audience for accessible, attractive rock that’s not stupid, Kaye is it.