Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sleepy LaBeef @ Black Swamp

A $50 guitar tuner would have made an enormous difference in rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef's Friday night performance at the Black Swamp Arts Festival. LaBeef's set consisted of an extended (and when I say extended, I mean extended), extemporaneous medley of rootsy rock-and-roll and country classics. LaBeef performed the first half of the set on an a red Gibson guitar that was just enough out of tune to cause the muscles in your jaw to tense -- a physical condition that complicates the beer-drinking process.

LaBeef delivered a rapid-fire series of song snippets, singing just enough of the lyric to allow the audience to identify the tune before abruptly moving on to the next number like a drunk driver making an unannounced lane change.

LaBeef has a wonderfully deep, sonorous voice, and it is a genuine pleasure to hear him sing. His back-up players, however, sing like some of the smaller Muppets. So it was grievous tactical error when, halfway through the set, LaBeef moved to the drums and turned the lead vocals over to the drummer (who moved to the bass), and the bass player (who moved to an in-tune guitar).

The hour-long set was not without moments of real rockabilly energy. Those moments made it clear that with a good four-piece band and bit more structure to the set, LaBeef could have a truly first-rate act.

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