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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  Partly Cloudy


Choke me in the shallow water: Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians with Joe Purdy

Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians
Credit:Emily Denaro
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The guy-with-a-guitar act gained popularity a few years back, especially with the frat-boy crew looking to score that perfect, heart-wrenching ditty -- and the perfect, number-one blonde. Last night, in collegiate-coated Madison, Joe Purdy showed the boys what they can't pick up from John Mayer or Jason Mraz: a lack of agenda will entrance a crowd of attractive ladies.

More living room jam than club concert, Purdy's set was a distillation of yearning love songs and destination odes. Part Springsteen, part Kerouac, Purdy sang about traveling and observation with the no-nonsense, contemplative tone of the lonely guy at the end of the bar. Arkansas, San Jose, and Desire were a few of the places Purdy took the crowd with his harmonica, acoustic guitar, and jovial right-hand man, guitarist Bryan Wright. Prefacing the night's stand-out track, "Stranded," Purdy talked about writing the song while stuck for 16-hours at LAX. With eyes squeezed shut, Purdy bit into the feeling of being trapped and helpless, his nose-pressed against the mic as if it were the door to a destination he might not ever get to enter.

Although Purdy embodies organic folk-rock down to the dirt on his frayed jeans, the night was far from a festival of introspective folk songs. Bluegrass, crunchy southern rock, and mandolin-infused melodies found their way into his hour on the stage. All the while, his voice was cedar-strong, dry, potent, and rough all at once.

Not cocky enough to play out of key, but apparently not banking enough to get his guitars pre-tuned, Purdy repeatedly paused to tweak his strings between songs, interrupting the flow of his set. With luck, future endeavors will be tighter. A little more variety and a little less auditory de ja vu would also be a plus.

If in 1990 you were graduating high-school, wallowing in first-apartment debt or somewhere in-between, chances are, you were at the Annex last night to hear headliner Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. And if you were like me, you were bored to tears. It is really hard to be honest about this show, given that Brickell's demeanor is similar to that of your favorite elementary school teacher; but I know what I know, if you know what I mean...

Edie Brickell is the attractive, younger woman married to musical icon Paul Simon. Although Brickell came into her own before she met Julio's friend, it's hard not to question why this one-hit-wonder is not languishing in the land of one-hit-wonderdom. Oh right, because she's married to Paul Simon.

Her songs were quaint. Some were even toe-tapping, with her hubby's jazzy, world- music influence highly noticeable when paired against her original, light alternative sound. But her entire performance was disheartening. For the amount of years she's been buckled down with a music genius, she hasn't learned how to be the least bit engaging -- or even enigmatic with her blandness. Dressed in a brown, monochromatic outfit, stripped of makeup and energy, Brickell opened her mouth so wide when she sang a puppy could have jumped out.

But barely a whisper emerged. Worse still, for half the songs she stood around looking vacantly at her capable band, biting her lip.

And the band. The musicianship was respectable, but nothing was outstanding. How could it be when your chanteuse bobs her head to your sound with less gusto than I give to elevator music?

Of course "What I Am" made it's appearance with its fantastic groove and afforded Brickell the most minutes where she didn't seem to need a defibrillator. But after all the wait, it was too late. I'd love to embody Brickell when I have children so that I could channel her small, soft, kind cooing to soothe my screaming, unborn offspring. But for use in a public venue? I'd exchange that opportunity for a pair of Garfunkel tickets.

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