American Music Club & Lisa Papineau, Vienna WUK, 13 March 2008

Mark Eitzel keeps getting better and better. Last Thursday’s concert by his group American Music Club was a blissful revelation, filled with the kind of emotionally acute and musically rich songwriting at which he excels. While there were many more people in the audience than attended his last solo appearance in Vienna, the WUK was by no means full, which is a sad state of affairs but also a fair reflection of Eitzel’s approach to his music – worldly, defiant and helplessly uncommercial.

An endearing and occasionally shambolic live performer, Eitzel was in fine mood, prefacing many of the songs with little spoken tableaux and revelling in musical exchanges with guitarist Vudi (whose own extempore blues number, delivered while Eitzel was attending to an unco-operative guitar, was a joy). Vudi’s playing was shimmering and potent, but Eitzel is no slouch on guitar either, and the two men’s vivid sparring was crucial to the sustaining of the wide-screen AMC sound. Nowhere was this filmic quality more apparent than on the emotional highwire of ‘Johnny Mathis’s Feet’, where Eitzel’s rich and dark voice gave epic weight to the lyric’s tortured self-questioning.

It was wonderful to see Eitzel so obviously touched by the extent and warmth of the audience’s appreciation, which generated three richly deserved encores. The final acoustic reading of ‘Firefly’, delivered in generous response to a deranged fan’s pleading (it was me, I confess), was as gleaming and evanescent as the fireflies themselves: “They don’t live too long, just a flash and then they’re gone…”

Those who arrived early had the pleasure of seeing a fine support set from American singer and musician Lisa Papineau and her band. Papineau’s songs are like miniature expressionist dramas, delivered via winning electronic textures and a percussive attack that perfectly holds the line between intricacy and clout. Strikingly attired in a stylish black dress, Papineau has a strong bluesy voice and a compelling onstage presence. Stabbing insistently away at her keyboard, she performed jerky dance moves that mirrored the spiky, uncompromising nature of her songs. “I’m not a very good dancer,” she told the audience ruefully, but there was something twisted and melancholy about her movements that gripped the attention utterly. Partway through the set, Eitzel joined her for a rich, sensitive duet, their voices entwined in seductive interplay. Here’s hoping she returns to Vienna for a show of her own soon.

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