River City ~ Dispatches from Austin

Friday, July 05, 2002

A trip to the Mercury in New York City offered a first-hand experience with Jay Bennett & Edward Burch, playing material off of their new album, The Palace at 4 a.m. This reporter's verdict is decidedly mixed. While the music is tight and the instrumental prowess of both artists is pretty much indisputable, the sound is really moody and, how can I say this… creepy.

Two baritones harmonizing with each other in hypnotic trance-like effect can be unnerving, especially given that Burch kind of looks like that guy next door who never really leaves his house, but you hear loud noises and see him up in the middle of the night doing strange things. What kinds of strange things remains uncertain, but one look behind those thick-rimmed glasses and devilish grin reminds you that you better not think too much about it.

Jay Bennett, for his part, seems to be relishing his new front man role. Actually, he and Burch seem to be a true partnership, but Bennett does most of the talking. Sometimes too much talking. He urged on the crowd, and then good-naturedly complained about their lame response. Perhaps they were just trying to get a read on him, and decide how they were feeling about the whole experience.

There were highpoints, actually. Bennett and Burch rolled through a great performance of "Puzzle Heart," the first song on their new album. And they threw in "My Darling," off Wilco's Summerteeth. But then Bennett had to go on and over-explain why they were performing a Wilco song (Bennett, of course, parted ways with the band during a tumultuous period in the fall). "Shut up and play," some guy next to me blurted out. I was more willing to indulge the maestro in his self-conscious, between-song chatter, but I really hope it's just a phase. Bennett and Burch need to let the music speak for itself; and if it can't hold up on its own, no amount of explaining is going to win them new fans.

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