The first thing I noticed upon walking into The Big Top last Thursday night was how great everything sounded in what is normally an acoustically quirky and unpredictable room. One look at the stage explained everything, as front-and-center, relentlessly wailing on an electric guitar and crooning about how much he hates the south through a devilish grin was Jay Holland, the longtime front of house guru who helps make One Eyed Jacks the best room in the city to catch live music.
He was fronting cowpunkish rockers Narcissy, a band of scene veterans who have spent the better part of the last decade sporadically subverting genre titles and gently offending the sensibilities of more mild-mannered local concertgoers. With bassist Anthony Donado and drummer Bill Rachel, the power trio unleashed a hilarious (and hilariously nimble) set that was equal parts experimental performance art piece and downright devastating rock n’ roll masterclass.
They bounced between every conceivable style and mood even before the band ditched their setlist in favor of a choose-your-own-adventure format in which Holland sifted through the Narcissy canon by asking the enthusiastic crowd questions like “Do you want a country song or a metal song?” and “Do you want to hear a Neil Young song or a song about Neil Young?”. But no matter what kind of music they settled on, the rhythm section was tight, the vocal harmonies were bracing, and bouts of outlandish on-stage theatrics alternatively highlighted and brilliantly obscured the true virtuosity baked into even deceptively straightforward numbers.
There was something thrilling about watching these hyper-musically literate old pros manhandle their instruments, and an even more encompassing feeling of glee took hold when it became clear the players on stage were free from the confines of any one particular musical vocabulary. These guys could play anything – southern roots rock, avant-garde drone, alternative country, light psychedelia – and did so with an unflinching panache that could have passed for insolent arrogance if Holland and co. didn’t consistently appear to be having even more fun than the truly delighted audience.