New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: jessie kilguss hank’s

Jessie Kilguss Brings a Whole Slew of Great New Songs to Brooklyn

Nothing like a European tour to inspire you to write a whole set worth of new material, right? Freddie Stevenson had the good sense to bring Jessie Kilguss along as a harmony singer and keyboardist on his most recent tour there, and the crystalline-voiced songwriter brought back enough new songs of her own to keep an audience at the American Folk Art Museum rapt earlier this fall. That was her most recent Manhattan gig – her next one is in Brooklyn at Hank’s at 10 PM on Dec 16. Cover is $5.

With her clever wordplay and understatedly anthemic sensibility, Kilguss’ closest comparisons are Elvis Costello and Leonard Cohen, the latter being her biggest influence. Although she play both guitar and keys, she typically limits herself to vocals when fronting her own band, tall and resolute and swaying with eyes closed in front of a tight electric guitar/bass/drums backing unit. That voice is a magical instrument, with a reflecting-pool clarity and a soaring range matched by minutely nuanced attention to subtle details. And as much as her songs tend to be on the brooding side, she can be devastatingly funny when she wants to be.

At the museum gig, the new material turned out to be more upbeat as well, at least after Spain, a slow, allusively waltzing pastorale. Russian Roulette, a steady, elegantly driving backbbeat number with a typical soaring chorus, had a tricky surprise ending. Kilguss’ lithely leaping vocals on the slow, swaying, moodily plainspoken Rainy Night in Copenhagen brought to mind Linda Draper in a particularly animated moment.

The sparsely jangling, straightforward What Is It You Want From Me left no doubt that it was a frustrated kiss-off anthem. With its uneasily percolating bassline and a coyly quirky little modulation toward the end, Strangers came across like peak-era 90s Wilco playing new wave – but with an infinitely better singer out in front of the band. The show hit a peak with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. one of the most bittersweely gorgeous, catchy janglerock anthems written this century.

Then Kilguss went back to the new mateiral with Edge of Something, which had the feel of a terse early Patti Griffin-style coffeehouse rock number, but with a more defiant edge. The band closed with the lilting, anthemic Over My Dead Body, a nonchalantly assertive reminder that you never, ever want to mess with a songwriter: they always get even in the end. The band wound it up with a savage flurry of guitar tremolo-picking. That’s about as loud as you can get in the museum: you can expect Kilguss and her crew to cut loose more at the Hank’s gig.

Jessie Kilguss Brings Her Plaintively Jangly, Brilliantly Catchy Tunesmithing to the East Village

You might wonder why this blog waited til now to mention the killer twinbill back in mid-July at Hank’s Saloon with Jessie Kilguss and an early but auspiciously dark incarnation of Karla Rose & the Thorns. The answer is that Kilguss, whose best project is her own band, is also in demand as a harmony vocalist. Shortly after that gig, she went on an extended European tour with Freddie Stevenson and the Waterboys. But she’s back, and has a gig at around 8 on Nov 10 at Hifi Bar.

Kilguss is as brilliant a singer as she is a tunesmith. Her speaking voice alone has more liveliness and color in it than most people can evoke singing at full throttle – there’s a rippling undercurrent of unselfconscious joy, as if she’s got an irresistibly funny secret to share. Her singing voice has that same unaffected warmth, with a hint of Americana twang or bluesy poignancy depending on the lyric or the character she’s portraying (a strong and quite successful acting background informs her style). As a songwriter, she resists easy resolutions, deftly building the tension in a phrase until she really needs to bring it in for a landing, with often breathtaking results. Behind her, a tight, purposeful janglerock band plays her pensive, typically midtempo songs.

She opened that set at Hank’s with the catchy but gently shattering title track from her most recent album, Devastate Me, a quiet account of the heartbreak to end all heartbreaks. Guitarist Jason Loughlin imbued I’m Your Prey with some unexpected roar and grit over Rob Heath’s tumbling drums in contrast to Kilguss’ wounded ingenue vocals. Then she brought the lights down with a wistfulness just short of fullscale longing, throughout the catchiest song of the set, Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight, inspired by both the Alexandra Fuller memoir as well as Kilguss’ rural Massachusetts childhood.

Bassist John Kengla set a hypnotic ambience on the next number, rising from distantly Indian-tinged resonance to bouncy folk-rock. Loughlin’s deep-space quasar leads pulsed through the Anglian folk noir of Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, then the band mashed up honkytonk and Lou Reed gutter-glam with Tennessee, an unlikely but strangely successful blend. From there they hit a pounding, tense straight-up rock groove with the gloomy Civil War narrative March to the Sea. They stuck with the same beat for the song after that, Loughlin’s crashing, bell-like chords a welcome antidote to the noisy crowd (no surprise, this being Hank’s – people go there to tie one on). After the subdued melancholy of You Didn’t Do Right By Me, they closed with the most epic song of the night, the towering Ten Stories High and its 80s grand guignol. After wrapping up a similarly epic tour, it’s a good bet that Kilguss will be psyched to be back on her own turf, singing her own songs.