Despite the mutual good vibes and their shared sideman, Jolie Holland and TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone proved a strange match last night at The Summit, particularly when the two joined forces. Malone's husky warbles and Holland's soothing drawl were compelling in their own right and somewhat intriguing together, but the night's best moments came when they set collaboration aside and each did their thing.
Malone went first, doing stripped-down versions of his Rain Machine material. Suffice it to say this stuff works a lot better with full arrangements. Without the structure and force of a proper rhythm section, Malone's songs were left to float, shapeless. Music like that can be life-changing, but in this case it was merely meandering; Malone's lazy strums felt more careless than carefree. He's lucky he's such a commanding presence when he's singing; otherwise he couldn't get away with music that's such a drag.
"What if I turned 'two more' into 'three more'?" Malone asked, nearing the end of his set. "What if 'three more' becomes four straight days with the doors locked?" The joke was a lot funnier (and a lot more terrifying) knowing how torturous it would be to reside in this head space for more than a few minutes.
Holland joined in on violin and vocal harmonies for part of the set, but her presence didn't do much to liven up the material. The undisputed highlight came in the final song, when Malone and ace sideman Grey Gersten cut loose with a fireball of shredded chords and toddler tantrum shrieks. Kudos to Malone for not ending the song there but letting it descend from the volcano summit with more alien falsetto, which felt like the right move for this particular composition.
Holland's set was a lot more satisfying. She's the kind of gal who could hold a room captive just singing a cappella, but her cabaret country folk was even richer with a few thoughtful strums. It's a lot harder to pinpoint what she does because it's so classic, yet her unique intuition makes it her own.
Gersten's contribution to this night can't be understated. His melodic lead lines helped Malone's set immeasurably, and his smart accompaniment took Holland's opus to another echelon.