Certainly one of the best-kept secrets on the music scene is that Edie Brickell and her New Bohemians do, in fact, rock.
The staid though pleasant collection of folk-oriented tunes found on the band's debut album, "Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars," was transformed Wednesday night, through the miracle of amplification, into bona fide head-bangers. And a couple thousand Brickell fans (this critic included) were glad of it.It's not that their studio stuff is bad or boring or unimaginative. To be honest, I'd have to say New Bohemians are a much needed breath of fresh air on a music scene grown stale from the redundancies and repetition of musicians who are at least as concerned with commercial success as artistic integrity.
Regardless of their motives, it's clear that New Bohemians are not out to follow standard formulas. Their sound is probably best described as folk, but if that tag conjures images of Joan Baez or Arlo Guthrie strumming fervently at acoustic instruments, then think again. There's a lot of voltage here - electric guitar and bass - as well as pounding, persistent percussion.
In other words, this is really weird stuff.
And it's not by any means all Brickell's doing. Guitarist Kenny Withrow, whose piercing finger picking and clean, imaginative leads give the band a distinctiveness that may not be apparent on first listen.
Bassist Brad Houser, the only original group member (one of the Old Bohemians, I guess), brings the bass into the foreground with his ability to somehow tease an almost tangible moan from what is generally regarded as a background instrument.
But, of course, there's a reason why it's not Brad Houser or Kenny Withrow and the New Bohemians. It's Brickell who loaned the vocals to a struggling band of Dallas club musicians in 1985 and helped them to power their way to Olympian heights on music charts.
And she was in superb form Wednesday night, better than I expected. Her voice, like the band's music, was surprisingly strong in concert. The evening's standouts included "Air Of December," "Love Like We Do" and the highly acclaimed "What I Am" with Brickell's near-famous chorus, "I'm not aware of too many things/ I know what I know if you know what I mean."
One might be tempted to criticize her awkward stage presence, replete with lanky, purposeless strides from one side of the stage to the other, her hands firmly encumbered in the back pockets of her taut, naturally faded jeans.
But she grows on you. Her almost pretentious awkwardness and coquettish sideways glances at the audience are not without their appeal (for the men in the audience, anyway), and her rambling introductions to and explications of her songs are charming, if somewhat naive. It's clear, after seeing her onstage, what led Rolling Stone to dub her "rock's hippest hippie."