Crooked Fingers at Club Garibaldi
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It’s not every day that an audience walks away from a show having witnessed a perfect set list. But a perfect set list is exactly what was offered up by indie stalwarts Crooked Fingers Thursday night at Club Garibaldi. It deliriously ebbed and flowed over the course of 90 short minutes, culminating in a stunning two-song encore that stopped an already rapt crowd dead in its tracks.
Drawing from a large, eclectic back catalog littered with everything from hushed chamber-pop to Springsteen-esque bombast, former Archers of Loaf front man Eric Bachmann went about assembling a pitch-perfect mix of songs both new and familiar. Always a group in a state of flux, the Crooked Fingers of Thursday night were refreshingly spare: Bachmann trading off between an array of acoustic and electric guitars, and the enchanting Liz Durrett providing rudimentary drumming and sundry digital effects. Set opener “You Must Build a Fire”—from 2005’s Dignity And Shame—started things off on a quiet, pensive note. Plucked from the group’s decade-old, self-titled debut, “Crowned in Chrome” and “Broken Man” continued this trend, eventually drawing the crowd into a batch of well-received newer compositions.
Ratcheting up the intensity midway through the set, Bachmann transformed “The Rotting Strip” and fan-favorite “New Drink For The Old Drunk” into beer-hoisting, sing-along anthems, with both songs garnering a huge response. Originally a duet with Neko Case from 2008’s Forfeit/Fortune, the excellent “Your Control” found Durrett more than up to the unenviable task of subbing for Case, her husky vocals giving the song a darker texture than the one found on the record. Even better was the one-two punch of “Don’t Say a Word” and “Lonesome Warrior,” both songs expertly bringing the energy of the room back down to a hushed, low-key murmur.
After finishing up with a gorgeous rendition of “Little Bird,” Crooked Fingers quickly returned to the stage for what would be a jaw-dropping encore. “Man O’ War”—the opener to Bachmann’s 2007 solo album, To The Races—proved revelatory. Featuring breathy, ethereal backing vocals from Durrett, the song was absolutely stunning, silencing even the most restless and chatty audience members. Finally, “Sleep All Summer,” from 2005’s Dignity And Shame, brought things to a bittersweet close, fading out on a single repeated, haunting question: “Why won’t you fall back in love with me?”
Opening was the ever-reliable, ever-present Conrad Plymouth. Leaving his backing band at home, singer-songwriter Chris Porterfield performed solo, perfectly setting the stage for the night’s proceedings. Perhaps due to the Summerfest madness permeating the city, the crowd was smallish, but eventually poured out into the streets knowing it had witnessed a night of near-perfection.