Dean & Britta
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Victoria Lucas & the Nightingales
Abbey Lounge, Cambridge
March 9, 2006

Last Friday night I had one of the most satisfying evenings of music I can remember. I came very close to going to THREE shows (sorry, Holly Golightly —maybe next time), but in the end settled for two: Dean & Britta at the Museum of Fine Arts’ august Remis Auditorium, and the Nightingales in Inman Square’s decidedly less august Abbey Lounge.

While I greatly enjoyed Friday night’s Dean & Britta show, they surprised me by being strangely unemotional performance-wise. I mean, here they are, a married couple, playing a well-seasoned mix of originals and covers —most of which have a languorous, decadent (even louche) vibe. By and large the songs are overheated tales of love at first sight, of desire striking with thunderbolt force. So why the aloof tone? The band picked up the slack with some bold, even humorous touches (like the thunderous melodica during the joyous cover of Lee Hazlewood’s “You Turn My Head Around”) but there was a marked lack of interaction between Dean and Britta. The seeming absence of intimacy was made all the more glaring given the emotional intensity of the lyrics. It didn’t ruin the performance, but it dimmed the aura of music’s lush flirtatiousness just a bit.

While the show may have been lacking in true duets, both Dean and Britta’s voices were in fine form. Britta’s voice especially sounded honey-sweet yet powerful, with just the right touch of huskiness to keep it from cloying. As always, Dean’s eloquent, nimble guitar stood front and center, that slightly wry post-Velvets strum-und-twang hitting a sweet spot somewhere between laconic jangle and insistent psychedelia.

There was a Steve Holt! look-alike in the front row who shrieked uncontrollably every time Dean played even a vaguely Luna-ish chord. Thankfully he didn’t pass out when the time came for a Galaxie 500 tune (or, more specifically, a Jonathan Richman cover that Galaxie had covered back in the day).

Flitting from the elegant reserve of the MFA to the dingy, dimly-lit hole-in-the-wall charm of the Abbey Lounge, we arrived just in time for the last few songs by New York-based The Victoria Lucas, who impressed me thoroughly by totally rocking a theremin solo during their raucous finale.

I’d been warned that Nightingales leader Robert Lloyd could be incredibly mercurial, and I was more than a little worried we’d be catching the band on an off night. (This after hearing that their NYC-area shows had been consistently incendiary.) Well, I needn’t have bothered, because from the moment Lloyd stepped in to the spotlight on that tiny stage, there was no let-up. Thankfully the band was more than up to the task of keeping up with his funny, self-deprecating, always splenetic brand of rat-at-at talk-rant (stylistically more cohesive than Mark E Smith’s, but with the same level of lacerating bile). They alternated easily between locked-groove jangle and more caustic guitar workouts —former Prefect Alan Apperley was well-matched with relative newcomer, guitar wunderkind Matt Wood. Drummer and percussionist Daren Garatt (ex- of Pram) was amazing to watch —when he came offstage I was surprised to see that he didn’t, in fact, have eight arms. Alas, we did not get “Here Come the Warm Jets” on kazoo (or the Hawkwind cover —for that I am thankful!) but with originals played with such joyous verve, they were hardly missed.

Spotted: Mark Robinson, head-bobbing along with aplomb. Also, ubiquitous Boston scenester Billy Ruane made it to both shows. He’s an inspiration.

Dean & Britta | The Victoria Lucas | The Nightingales |

MP3The Nightingales, “Lions on the Prowl”

MP3Dean & Britta, “Words You Used to Say”