From the first moments of soundcheck, it was clear this would be something different, transcendent, very nearly magical.
An audience of about 40 braved the road construction, mud, a precarious u-turn, and some pretty lousy parking to see Chuck E. Costa (Mon Monarch) and Bill Buckenroth (Gobhi) make various stops along Costa’s deeply personal discography. Set in a North Texas living room against a fireplace and a backdrop of family pictures, Costa put some of his own photographs to song, tracks like “I Am Good Fortune” and “Restless Heart.” (“I never was one to believe/ That being wild was the same as being free. If I ever had an ace up my sleeve/ it was you.”) Stream here:
The crowd was already sparse (flu, child rearing) and started thinning early (more flu, more child rearing). The 30 or so who remained were entranced with Costa’s nutrient-rich and crystalline vocals, poignant lyrics, gentle demeanor, and Cabernet-fueled wit. Even between songs, Costa’s foot still tapped rhythmically, his speaking voice indistinguishable from his singing voice. Artists like that practically seem to be made of music.
His familiarity is disarming. This way the sing-along segment — which could have been disastrous, what with an audience of 30 and all — really worked:
Costa’s reputation preceded him, so accolades like “consummate musical intelligence” and “literate” drew a rather Dylanesque sketch. But easy comparisons fail. Rumors tell of an expressly political path, but his set list Saturday was anything but. Hints of Paul Simon inhabit his boyish phrasing and vocal warmth, while his transparent narratives and benign lyrical pranks recall, coincidentally enough, Edie Brickell. More on Brickell, it has been two decades since the present reviewer has seen an audience commune in exactly this way: during the last New Bohemians concert, before taking off to record their major-label debut. For an idea of Costa’s live performance, listen to “No Name,” recorded in a single take while introducing the track to his bandmates:
About here is where we should abandon the citizen journalist routine, and the news correspondent’s view from nowhere. Bill is a personal friend. His wife Britt is Chuck’s sister. The house? Our house. Regular readers know Patrick to be our senior folk correspondent, but I’m certain I enjoyed the music as much as he did. The art form usually spends its time preaching to the converted, but tonight Costa had no time for preaching. He was too busy winning over the agnostics.
Your executive summary: two guys. Two guitars. Great company. Close quarters. Some wine. A restrained, expert performer, with natural vocal gifts. Songs about dogs that brought the dog into the room. It was a potent recipe, indeed.
UPDATE: this is exceedingly cool.