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Just Add Water: Kadman, Israel Darling, and the Foreign Press at the Velvet Lounge, June 8

June 10, 2010

The band Kadman has been kicking around Baltimore for the last couple years in a few different incarnations, usually as a trio with a rhythm section accompanying singer/guitarist David Manchester. But perhaps the most exciting lineup of Kadman to date is its current one, with Manchester being backed only by multi-instrumentalist Dan Cohan, one half of the awesome Baltimore instrumental duo the Water.

The new two-piece Kadman made its Washington debut on Tuesday, a few nights after its first show in Baltimore, and even if it was the smallest lineup of the band yet in terms of head count, its sound is bigger than ever. Cohan brought along much of the gear he uses with the Water, including a drum set, a guitar, looping pedals, and even his own lighting rig. For some songs, he’d play one instrument or the other, but usually he’d play drums for one part of the song, loop it, and then layer rhythm guitar over Manchester’s own playing, often building up to a beautiful squall of sound. But when Cohan focused on drumming, the set was its most exciting, his thunderous beats bringing a swing and grandeur to songs such as “Anything” and “The Mountain Song” that they’d never quite had before.

The band’s latest album, this year’s These Old Bones, was the focus of the set, but toward the end it made time for one new song, and the early favorite “Honeymoon’s End” from 2008’s Sing To Me Slower.

The mix of music on the Velvet Lounge’s PA before Kadman played was consistently great (and included Wye Oak’s “I Hope You Die”), but the openers were a little more hit and miss. Washington outfit the Foreign Press got a warm hometown reception, but I struggled to hear the appeal.

The Hold Steady make tuneless talk-singing about getting drunk over rote rock riffage sound easy, but the Foreign Press proved that it could be done even more awkwardly and charmlessly, as frontman Andy Fox’s voice became more hectoring and unmelodious with each song. The band actually rocked out pretty well, especially with the last few tunes, but the disconnect between the music and the vocals remained aggravating. There was a definite literary bent to his lyrics–one song was dedicated to recently deceased novelist David Markson–but it was hard to appreciate them in the context of what sounded like the worst Silver Jews tribute band ever.

Fortunately, the other opening band, Israel Darling from North Carolina, was far more enjoyable. A sextet that included a violinist and two drummers, Israel Darling had a big, twangy sound that was rousing from the very first song, and didn’t let up for the duration of its set. Songs like “Woman, God, and Pity For a Man” from last year’s Dinosaur Bones and Mechanical Hands had huge shout-along choruses, and both drummers pounded away at top volume, just out of sync enough to match the band’s charmingly rambling, ramshackle sound.

The only weak spot was when one of the band’s guitarists would occasionally cue incredibly loud dialogue clips from some movie or TV show on a laptop as between-song segues, which came off as an annoying and unnecessary accessory to an otherwise killer set. It’s  frustrating to see a kick-ass band drive from a few states away to play to a small and mostly empty room, but otherwise hard to complain about having a front row seat to such a great musical discovery.

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