Widowspeak Billiken Club September 14, 2011
As if to make up for lost time, NYC's Vivian Girls made a return trip to St. Louis last night -- the band's second in six months. As last time, their set was fun and frenetic. However, I was just as interested in Widowspeak, a fellow Brooklyn three-piece along for this leg of Vivian Girls' tour.
With roots in the Pacific Northwest -- singer/guitarist Molly Hamilton is from Tacoma, and drummer Michael Stasiak is from nearby Lakewood, Washington -- Widowspeak has created a low-key buzz with a couple of seven-inch singles and a new CD on the ever-reliable Captured Tracks label.
Live, they each bring different personalities to the sound. Hamilton shyly strums her songs and sings in a high, plaintive voice that's been compared to Hope Sandoval and Kim Deal. Stasiak keeps a steady, simple and reliable beat. Guitarist Robert Thomas looks like he should be playing AC/DC covers back home with his sideburns, facial hair and Night of the Living Dead T-shirt, but his lead guitar lines fill out the sound perfectly, adding tension and nuance to Hamilton's guitar and vocals. He is capable of everything from jazz to Morricone, and he doesn't skimp on the tremolo effects. With the band's midtempo, melodic songs, the obvious comparisons are to Galaxie 500 and Low -- fellow stripped-down trios who use subtle dynamics the way other bands use sheer volume. An even more apt comparison would be to ultra-obscure San Francisco trio Virginia Dare, who made a couple of wonderful and like-minded records in the 1990s.
Perhaps Widowspeak's most famous song at the moment is their cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." Those of us over a certain age will recall that "Wicked Game" actually came across as a fine song at one point. It was subsequently spoiled by overplay and that heinous video where he's cavorting with a model on the beach. However, its evocative lead guitar, lonely lyrics and slight air of mystery fit perfectly into Widowspeak's catalog. And that's how they played it -- completely without pretense, as if it were just another of their originals.
Despite a couple of slightly sluggish songs at the end, Widowspeak was a very nice surprise and a great soundtrack to one of the first cool, clear nights of autumn.
Setlist: In The Pines Puritan Hard Times Burnout Fir Coat Gun Shy Nightcrawlers Wicked Game (Chris Isaak) Harsh Realm Ghost Boy