Saturday, May 22, 2010

AM & Josh Rouse at Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, May 21, 2010

Josh Rouse, formerly of Nebraska and Nashville but now living in Spain, played Atlanta's Variety Playhouse last night. His original tour plans only had him playing in New York and the West Coast, and I wondered if I wouldn't have to travel to Portland to see him, but following a travel snafu caused by the Icelandic volcano, he launched a southern leg to his tour.

New Orleans' AM opened the show with a great set of well-crafted and intelligent pop songs. They were a bit of a discovery for me - I've heard, and liked, one song of theirs (It's Been So Long), but didn't know anything about them. AM, apparently, is not the band but the singer, who also plays acoustic and electric guitars, as well as a ukulele on one number last night, and the letters are both his initials and a reference to the pop influences on his music. His touring band last night consisted of a drummer and keyboards (no bass), and everybody in the band (including AM himself) had mustaches and/or afros, giving them a '70s-style appearance, which matched their sound quite well.

AM included a pair of instrumentals in the middle of his set, including a nice cover of a samba by Carlos Jobim. But the highlight, at least for me, was It's Been So Long, the one song that I knew, played near the end of the set and featuring a solo conga introduction. Here's a version of the song with Angela Correa (of Correatown) on backing vocals as performed on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic:

But the evening's main attraction was Josh Rouse, who put on an outstanding show with his new, Brazilian/Spanish band, featuring a drummer, a bass player, a combination keyboardist and guitarist, and a fourth musician playing a traditional Brazilian instrument (a cavaquinho?).

They played several songs from Rouse's new album, El Turista, and also covered songs from his many previous albums. A lot of the fun was hearing how the old songs sounded when played by the Spanish-influenced band. The set opened with a Spanish song before switching to English and a performance of Lemon Tree from the new album.

After Lemon Tee, the band performed a lovely version of Rouse's poignant Pretty Boy, and then I Will Live On Islands from El Turista, probably the cheeriest prison song ever written (listen to the lyrics).

Rosue encouraged - and received - audience participation on several songs, including a sing-along on the exhilarating Las Voces. Other highlights of his set included Hollywood Bass Player from 2007's Country Mouse, City House, Valencia from El Turista, and Quiet Town from 2006's Subtitulo.

For the encore, Rouse took the stage alone and played Love Vibration from the 2003 album 1972 (the first Josh Rouse album that I heard). His keyboardist then joined him on stage to play the title song of the same album, before the rest of the band joined him on stage for the finale.

There's an emotional depth to many of Rouse's songs that puts his music in a special place in my heart. It was great to finally see him performing on stage, and to hear and see the carefree joy contained in his new Spanish-influenced songs.

Rouse's tour is going to take him up to Asheville tonight and then home (so to speak) to Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee, before performing at a free festival in Louisville and then on to Chicago and the Midwest. I would love to be present at his Nashville homecoming gig, and coincidentally, my job will be taking me up to Nashville next Wednesday. Unfortunately, the concert is Tuesday night.

One final note: the sound quality for both bands was outstanding last night. Variety Playhouse has good acoustics and the engineers kept the sound clear and crisp, so that all of the nuances of all the instruments were clearly audible and nothing got lost in the mix. Nice touch, guys.

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