January 31, 2008
Every year, droves of adolescent boys decide that they want to learn how to sing and play guitar. It could be to pick up the cute girl that sits beside you in math class, or to develop a greater sense of self-worth and accomplishment. Whatever the motivation, an overwhelming amount of these aspiring troubadours will fall flat on their noses within the first few months, the rest eventually being weeded out over time. I ask you now, what happens when the perfect Dylan record falls into the hands of one of these chosen disciples of pop grandeur? Or better yet, what happens when Nirvana’s “Incesticide” and Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary” are discovered by one eager lad with a guitar and a dream, which then leads him through rock’s twisted corridors to Dylan and Young and a whole plethora of American folk?
The answer is Kevin Devine.This former angst-rocker turned indie-folk darling is burning all of the books on common singer-songwriter stereotypes, and leaving in his wake something refreshingly tangible and real. His lyrics are the New York subways and streets and brownstones, yet he manages to deliver them with the sincerity of a man with a broken suburban heart. He is the spokesman for a lost generation — the kids with college degrees who have given up on finding real jobs, and instead choose to haunt the lonely bars on the edge of town with both Bukowski and iPod firmly in hand.
His forte being his solo ballads that showcase his literary prowess with aching sincerity, Mr. Devine also maintains a solid rocking repertoire. Accompanied by the aptly named “Goddamn Band”, Kevin has successfully managed to excavate the traces of angst in his solo songs and craft them in to brutally honest pieces of American rock.
I had the pleasure of witnessing Kevin Devine’s sincere emotional unraveling yet again the other night at The Black Cat in D.C., which remains a crucial venue in the development of indie/rock music on the East coast. The set started out with Kevin alone in typical acoustic prestige, belting out individual volumes of some distant town, or perhaps his own personal diatribes that he cleverly disguises with the help of his Journalism degree-toting eye and tongue.
Soon enough Kevin was accompanied by a lead guitar which significantly changed the mood from somber nostalgic reverie to fast-paced, energetic pop crescendo. Devine feeds off of any sort of outside accompaniment (which is why I long for the day when I get the true Goddamn Band treatment), jostling and swaying with the music until he reaches a seemingly destructive level of pent up emotion and necessity. I say necessity because it is all so honest. It feels like Kevin Devine absolutely has to do this with his life or he will explode. As he strums fervently, often without a pick, his face quickly tenses and he becomes this entity of veins and vocal chords and musical essence that needs to tell you everything that it has experienced.
It’s like watching a volcano that is about to erupt and all you can do is stare in awe, knowing damn well that you are about to be consumed by its fire.
But this is a good way to burn — Kevin’s songs are easily accessible and it’s not all intense and overwhelming. His sets are sprinkled with considerable comical breaks and the sharing of inside jokes with the audience. It feels like you are watching a friend who has always been obsessed with music play for you in his living room, except he is making a living off of this.
If you haven’t already checked this guy out, then this is me demanding you to do so right now.
Listen to this: Make The Clocks Move
Kevin Devine – “Brooklyn Boy” Live @ The Black Cat