It’s really a shame Richard Buckner has to spend so much time playing in bars, which can be a distracting environment for someone whose music depends so much on quiet dynamics. On his previous visit to Raleigh, across town at the Berkeley Cafe back in January, Buckner cut his performance short because he felt the chattery crowd was insufficiently attentive. This show went much better — even if a club employee managed to pick a quiet moment to dump a trashcan full of empty beer bottles out back.
The ensuing crash didn’t appear to phase Buckner, who faced the demons in his songs solo with just his own guitar and voice. Buckner’s 90-minute set offered up a number of new songs from his upcoming third album, Since, due out on MCA in August. The new material sounded of a piece with the bleakness of Bloomed and Devotion + Doubt, full of cutting lines such as, “I sent off a letter with the stinger still inside.”
Buckner’s songs may work within a limited emotional range, but they do capture that one feeling brilliantly — emotion that’s “wasted but well-spent” on extravagant gestures like all-night drives, 10-page letters or overseas phone calls. “Figure”, “4am” and “Surprise, AZ” were all mesmerizing, the rolling cadence of Buckner’s voice making awkward lines of verse flow as naturally as a waterfall.
Dana and Karen Kletter’s 45-minute opening set was equally powerful, and even better than the sisters’ fabulous new album. Dear Enemy (Hannibal/Rykodisc) is an amazing record, equal parts family scrapbook and primal-whisper therapy session. The album’s lone drawback is that it doesn’t convey how hilariously droll the Kletters can be just making idle chit-chat between songs.
“At this point,” Karen deadpanned after they sang the Yiddish lullaby “Raisins And Almonds”, “we usually mention the Barry Sisters — who were the Kim and Kelley Deal of Yiddish swing music.”
Jokes aside, the Kletters’ songs were every bit as to-the-bone as anything Buckner played later, with the added dynamic of sibling tension. A line such as, “Time sure flies when you hate your sister” (from the album’s “Sister Song”) takes on added weight when you can actually see twin sisters trading it back and forth. At least they weren’t looking at each other when they sang it.
Poi Dog Pondering violinist Susan Voelz joined the Kletters onstage to duplicate her lovely playing on the album, including the soaring hook to “Meteor Mom”. Voelz’s vibrato-heavy part also served as the perfect backdrop to Dana’s devastating “Father Song”. Most people have a problematic relationship with their father, and “Father Song” sounds like the elegy every son or daughter would like to write to their own dad: “Father I have you the heart of all my history/A landmark by which I found my way/Father you leave me with no objective/I cannot go and you cannot stay.”
Played live, with Dana giving in to her pain and howling away, it was stunning; there wasn’t a heart in the room that her voice didn’t pierce. For those few minutes, the Brewery was as quiet as a church.