When former RTFO Bandwagon mastermind Andrew Graham debuted his new project Swarming Branch at Alive's Bands to Watch show earlier this year, he packed the stage with some of the city's most inventive musical minds to realize his rambunctious saloon tunes and off-kilter balladry.

When former RTFO Bandwagon mastermind Andrew Graham debuted his new project Swarming Branch at Alive's Bands to Watch show earlier this year, he packed the stage with some of the city's most inventive musical minds to realize his rambunctious saloon tunes and off-kilter balladry.

Even after hearing the excellent "Andrew Graham's Good Word," I was a little nervous about lending the Bands to Watch spotlight to a band that had never played live before.

But Graham and company assuaged my anxiety with a commanding performance of spastic, chord-free folk punk. Not everybody has the quirky swagger to cover "Like a Rolling Stone" with such genuine enthusiasm and make it a worthy tribute.

The band that played Rumba Cafe last Thursday was leaner but no less formidable. The Sun's Chris Burney continues to handle the bass, and Dane Terry still lends his considerable keyboard talents. Behind the extremely minimal drum kit - one kick, one snare, one cymbal - was Graham's former RTFO drummer Sean Leary.

This new trimmed-down Branch rambled through most of the songs from "Good Word," all building toward the climactic krautrock of "Take It Easy On Kathy, At Least She Can Dance," a much more immediate and satisfying cousin to Wilco's "Spiders (Kidsmoke)." I was pleased to hear a couple of selections from the RTFO catalog too, even if glorious lo-fi ballad "Like a Dan Shearer Over Troubled Water" lacked some of its magic without duet partner Jen Boyce.

Graham's roughshod approach left the performance feeling as crackly and lo-fi as his albums, not least due to his guitar, a hopelessly out-of-tune acoustic filtered through electric fuzz. As somebody who praised Pavement two weeks ago for their amateurish charms, this wasn't a big problem for me, but I wouldn't fault somebody for being turned off by the questionable tuning job.

His songwriting still reigns supreme, though, and he comes off so ambitious and good-natured as to render such concerns negligible. With Graham hollering his way through one lovely Lou Reed-inspired ditty after the next, the minor errors merely seemed like part and parcel of this guy's essence. He gets so carried away that passion, not precision, becomes the currency of choice.