The opening band was Widowspeak, a Brooklyn-based indie 3-piece. They list their sound on their Myspace as “grunge,” but they came across pretty mellow in their live set. Their arrangements were very simple, with straightforward drum beats and rhythm guitar strums. The highlights came primarily from the lead guitarist, who is fond of note bending and sliding with a definite blues-tinged style. At the start of their set, the lead female vocals were almost completely inaudible, making her seem like more of a backup singer to the lead guitar frontman. By the third song, the vocals got turned up a bit, but she still seemed to fade away into the background.
“We’re gonna try one out that we’ve never played,” she said before their fourth song. Whatever song that was turned out to be the most interesting. They seemed to make up their setlist as they went, and didn’t offer much commentary on what the songs were called or any details about themselves as a band, except at the very end when the singer announced that their single was available at the merch table. They also covered Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” but that one came across a bit bland and uninspired without any personal touch or new take. They played another original song that was pretty good after that, but with the singer on cruise control in the mellow lane and no apparent inclination to shift gears, the energy remained low, rendering their set less interesting than what they are probably capable of.
Hungtai came on stage full of attitude with his leather jacket, made sure his guitar was turned up, and spat on the stage before getting into “Speedway King,” and immediately breaking a string. I wonder what the record for the fastest a string has been broken at a live show is, because it was as if the last string just burst itself at the thought of being touched. Hungtai is definitely channeling the 50s era of rebel rousers and slicked-hair greasers, and especially those Elvis hip moves. He then went into “Sweet 17,” shrieking and shaking between staccato lyrics. At the end of the song he swiftly dropped to his knees in a move that was so abrupt it was hot. I don’t know why things like that are attractive, but they are. Perhaps that also had something to do with the general animalistic nature of his performance, bordering on perverted and testosterone-driven yet managing to be tender and flattering at the same time. I know that sounds nonsensical, but you can’t let silly things like reason and logic distract you from a great live performance.
Between songs he quickly threw off his jacket, revealing a stained white shirt. He announced that the next one was a new song, which ended up including him doing a slow moonwalk-like move across the stage while playing atonal chords over his looped hauntingly muddled vintage noise. His songs about being on the road translated great live, with his vocals frantic and menacing. He sang about how you can’t let the devil get you – but he does. Hungtai let out a creepy laugh into his distorted mic before yelling “Sucka!” I had to laugh out loud. This must be all those David Lynch films talking. Next was a cover of Mattress’ “Eldorado,” during which Hungtai aggressively waved his guitar around, and I’m pretty sure he was de-tuning himself while playing.
Dirty Beaches’ music most certainly lends itself to a dark film noir soundtrack, and live Hungtai seems to be recalling Nicolas Cage singing in “Wild at Heart,” especially on the slow numbers like “Lord Knows Best” and “True Blue.” The former was the last song of his set, which he prefaced with, “this song goes out to lovers.” The song still had its fills of angry snaps and sniffs, but it was a great closer. Hungtai faded himself out and thanked the crowd, but before he could walk off stage everyone screamed for more.
Hungtai looked surprised and modest, but came back quickly to pick up his mic. “Last call for slow dance,” he said before going into “True Blue.” This song shows off his vocal range the best, as he throws some high doo-wop notes in with a partial cover of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” After that the venue cleared out, except for several fans that lineup up near the stage to shake the hand of the Dirty Beaches man and show their appreciation. That’s got to be a great compliment for someone who admits to having little to no formal training. As minimal as Dirty Beaches’ music is, the 50s rockabilly punk attitude oozing out is thick all over. I can totally picture Hungtai riding a motorcycle down a dark highway, with a gritty sneer on his face and his gelled hair perfectly in place. When he rolls into your town, it should be something to talk about.
Dirty Beaches has another gig tonight at Glasslands with Psychedelic Horseshit in Brooklyn, and then has a couple of east coast dates before stopping in Chicago and ending in Canada. You can pick up his recently released Badlands at Zoo, and listen to him talk more about the concept his album here. Widowspeak has three more listed dates, all in New York.