Singing Men in the Common Cold

“This is a song about meaningless sex”, says Cory Branan to introduce one of his songs. The crowd chuckles as if it was a joke, and I suppose in a way it is, but then a sad song comes along, leaving everyone astounded and self-reflecting. It’s a pretty cold October night and though winter’s waiting around the corner, discouraging people from leaving their cozy houses on a Sunday night, the crowd is warm and enthusiastic. It’s difficult to figure out who everyone came to see, as the line-up is, in fact, more of a collective and group of friends than three separate acts per se; similar to what I had experienced already when seeing Austin Lucas last time with Mike Hale and Josh Small. Though Cory’s and Austin’s sets are quite distinct (Cory’s lyrics jokingly being dipped in sadness with a tinge of self-irony, Austin’s music more serious, tending towards feelings of confusion and, at times, bitterness) they complement each other. In the song Prettiest Waitress in Memphis particularly, Branan’s vocals reminded me of the Conor Oberst excellence from the Lifted era – I’m thinking mostly of Let’s Not Shit Ourselves – where half-spoken, half-sung storytelling backed up by quick, strummed guitar cascades into a screamed punchline. Austin Lucas, on the other hand, is much more reflective in his music; though throughout his set he communicates with the audience, convincing them to come closer, with his sister Chloe Manor telling jokes about banjo players, once the music starts humor leaves to get replaced by sadness and incredulity. Some songs entwine love with religion, compassion with bitterness. Shortly after Drag the River come on stage with their country, folky songs, the rest of the ‘family’ joins them, alternating spots on stage, sometimes exchanging instruments, keeping the audience on its toes waiting for Austin’s Go West, which had been promised earlier that night. With most of the crowd singing or whispering to that break-up song, the set comes close to an end, until Austin pulls out the cables of his guitar, steps down from the stage and stands, as per usual, among fans, initiating a sing-along, almost a capella choir surrounding him, ending the concert with intensity and a smile.

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