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On Friday, April 24, I went to the Sunset Tavern to see Franz Nicolay, the keyboardist for the Hold Steady (and, full disclosure, a good friend of my sister Andrea), on tour for his solo release Major General. Opening the show were Mostly Dimes and Moneybrother.

Moneybrother is technically a solo project of Anders Wendin, playing acoustic guitar and singing; he was joined by another musician on electric bass, drums, and backing vocals. The bassist had both a snare and a bass drum set up as kick drums, which I thought was an interesting solution to providing the rhythm section. They played a set of very catchy pop with a nice spare sound, having kind of an early Elvis Costello or Billy Bragg vibe. The two harmonized well when singing and occasionally had some funny interplay when trading off lines. Moneybrother had some very cool songs and I want to hear more; I'm surprised KEXP isn't already on top of this.

Mostly Dimes are a folk-rock quintet including guitar and lead vocals, mandolin and vocals, guitar, bass and clarinet, and drums. They had what I thought of as an Appalachian sound, and unsurprisingly it turned out the members were from the general area of the mid-Atlantic states and Virginia. Going by the lead singer's comments beforehand, the songs tended to be about social issues. I particularly liked their first song, which had an extended instrumental section and sounded more prog-rock, but I felt the rest were a bit bland despite the occasional color added by the clarinet (and trumpet played by the lead singer on one song). Overall, I felt they were strong players but their musical style just wasn't my thing.

When Franz Nicolay took the stage, he announced that he was a professional entertainer, which meant we were a professional audience, and he was here to professionally entertain us, which he proceeded to do for the next hour. Singing and alternately playing accordian, guitar, and banjo, he performed a cabaret-style act featuring funny introductions to whimsical and sometimes wistful songs. The songs were anecdotal, covering such experiences as working in a punk/sideshow circus, opening for the Dead Kennedys who were touring without the original lead singer, or simply answering that challenging question facing many a professional musician, "buy or rent?". Nicolay had an engaging manner and a strong singing voice, and it was great to hear a musician who understands dynamics. He finished his set with a couple sad songs on the banjo, giving the lie to Steve Martin's claim. I really enjoyed Nicolay's performance, and look forward to hearing more from him.

I have a few photos of each band, starting here in Flickr.

I've been remiss about posting upcoming shows, partly due to being so late with posting these reviews. However, I want to be sure you all know that Hotels are playing tomorrow night, Thursday May 7, at Chop Suey, and I will of course be there. I should also be going to see John Vanderslice doing an in-store performance at Easy Street Records in Queen Anne on Friday, May 22. Beyond that, I don't have anything lined up yet for June, so we'll see what comes up.

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