Bombadil, Benji Hughes, Lost in the Trees
Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh
Friday, April 10
After spending many of the last few years on tour, Durham's Bombadil took some time off from the road in early 2009 to rest and record Tarpits and Canyonlands, the successor to last year's wildly imaginative A Buzz, A Buzz. The album's due July 7 on Ramseur Records. The band's show Friday at Lincoln Theatre was its first of the new year and one it had planned and promoted for months. It's unfortunate, then, that the group's work and anticipation was somewhat spoiled by untimely circumstances.
Intended to be its first show without amicably departing member Stuart Robinson, the pianist/trumpeter was welcomed back into the fold in a last minute change of plans: Doctor's orders prevented Daniel Michalak, hampered by a hand ailment, from playing guitar or bass, so Robinson and Dylan Thurston (Eyes to Space/Lemming Malloy/Felix Obelix) joined the band, too. Michalak, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, appeared lost with nothing in his hands as he pranced across the stage, pseudo-directing his bandmates.
With two pinch hitters moved into the lineup with little notice, Bombadil's execution had trouble matching its ambition, especially on busier numbers like "Julian of Norwich." The crowd, which mostly filled the Lincoln's floor, remained rapt, though, and, when Bombadil hit its stride late in the show, the fans were rewarded. The energy of "Rosetta Stone," for instance, and call-and-response chorus of "Cavaliers (Har Hum)" were unmatched. "Honeymoon"—the most immediate of a half-dozen new cuts previewed during the band's hour-long, double-encore set—was triumphant, too, appearing to be an instant fan favorite. Download the song from Earfarm, and check out this video of "Malaysia", another new jam.
Chapel Hill's Lost in the Trees hit leadoff, Ari Picker's orchestral pop troupe finding receptive ears with its first Lincoln appearance. Though the venue sounded a bit too cavernous even for the 11-piece, Picker & Co. had no trouble keeping the audience's attention in the normally tough one-spot. When multi-instrumentalist Will Hackney announced mid-set that Lost in the Trees would be playing Raleigh again soon (May 21 at Tir Na Nog's Local Beer/Local Band with The Never), someone on the floor—which had grown from empty to nearly 100 strong over the 45-minute set—yelled back "Good idea!" And where one good idea deserves another, Lost in The Trees' reinterpreted The Never's piano-led "Thanksgiving, Pt. 1. It never sounded more gorgeous, honestly.
The bill hit a snag in its middle during Benji Hughes's set. The Charlotte singer-songwriter has received a bit of national attention for his Broken West double-album A Love Extreme, an admittedly fun record that borrows Beck's quirky lyricism and electro-funk styling and marries it with dispassionate delivery. In this live setting, though, Hughes' songs fell flat, thanks to mush-mouthed vocals and a sloth-like stage presence that sucked the life out of a 45-minute set that seemed way longer given his backing quartet's propensity to delve into white-boy-jam-band funk. With between song dialog that was hard to follow at best and unintelligible at worst (think Mitch Hedberg's most drugged-out moments), Hughes' set narrowly avoided trainwreck status. An occasional oversized beat got a few feet moving, even as the rest eyed him with confusion. Decide for yourself if Benji's just rocking out too hard on "Neighbor Down the Hall":