Listening to AA Bondy – live or otherwise – is nothing if not intense; and his third solo album, Believers, is no exception. His solo debut, American Hearts, is the very best of Americana – honest & bare, a wandering man with a guitar & a harmonica; and 2009’s When the Devil’s Loose is similar, allowing for more instrumentation, with a little more maturity & complexity. Believers is different. It has a quieter, more ethereal quality. Maybe it’s the recent trip I took to Scotland, but this album reminds me of the Highlands – desolate, lonely, even a bit grim – but strikingly beautiful. He still has elements of the Americana-folk sound of his previous releases, but he seems to be bringing it forward, evolving it into his own unique style. A storyteller reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor’s Southern Gothic mystique, he brings a sense of sadness and truth to this album.
Bondy’s live show on Wednesday, Nov 16 at Rock & Roll Hotel was both serious and intense. Starting with the first track on his new album, “The Heart Is Willing”, his deep, velvet voice hums along to the forward march of the beat. Images of water and tv noise projected onto the stage, washing over him, his band, and the backdrop behind them throughout the show. It seemed especially right for this –his languid, almost sinister songs have a dreamlike quality: the feeling of waking up from a strange dream, or swimming in the ocean at night. He sang with passion, eyes closed, brow furrowed; at one point (just after the line, “find another horse to break,” incidentally), galloping almost in slow motion in a circle like a little boy on a toy horse.
This show was filled with charged quiet moments, instruments humming, gently pulling you along – which was captivating. But unfortunately, the thumping from the consistently awful DJ for the dance party upstairs kept coming through the floor – it was a real shame. He even asked from the stage at one point if there was anything that could be done about it, and sadly, they did nothing. And when there was a feedback issue during the encore, he first tried to keep going, but eventually had to stop. He was clearly furious, and yelled something un-publishable about “computers”. Everyone stood silent – it was an awkward moment to be sure – and after a beat or two, the audience cheered in support, which he seemed sheepishly grateful for. It was uncomfortable, but it was frustrating too – having a thumping DJ and feedback issues breaks the spell of what the band is weaving on stage, especially this one.
I can’t wait to see him again – but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s at a venue that respects their artists enough to turn down the dance party.