Jeff German opened his set at Rumba Café on Friday, Nov. 22, with a pair of apologies.
The first, delivered before a single note had been played, reflected the singer/guitarist’s self-effacing nature. “For what you’re about to encounter,” he sighed, “I’m deeply, deeply sorry.”
He followed with a second, “Apology with Every Song,” a rollicking, roots-inflected rocker off 12 R.O.U.N.D.S., his just-released album with his band The Blankety Blanks.
More often, though, German’s songs were about learning to cope with disappointment rather than making amends. One minute he was sighing, “There’s got to be more … than this miserable existence,” and the next he was comparing life to a brutal boxing match, dropping his guard and taking the punches because he was simply too worn down to avoid them any longer. Instead he tried to dull the pain with alcohol (“This town needs a bar because I need a drink,” he sang on “Sit and Think”) and a woman’s touch (the organ-laced “Fifteen Minutes”). And when that didn’t work he simply cranked the volume to try and drown out the surrounding noise.
On one wrenching new song, “Hang On,” the guitarist, who has also played alongside Lydia Loveless, The Flyin’ Saucers and The Curdogs, raced to Detroit to say goodbye to his dying father, intent on keeping a promise to be with him at the end. Rather than adopting a mournful tone, however, German and his cohorts revved the guitars to keep pace with his car’s climbing RPMs.
So it went for much of the night. While the singer’s words explored downcast subject matter, the music itself often scrapped, clawed and snarled, flirting with roadhouse country (the loping “Kro-Bide”), pub rock (an appropriately sloppy cover of The Replacements “Achin’ to Be”) and backwoods gospel (on one tune German invited everyone to church, briefly throwing his hands in the air as if overcome by the Holy Ghost).
A planned acoustic segment was even scrapped — “This is usually the part of the set where I get all mellow,” German said, “but you don’t want that, do you?” — a wise decision that must have slightly bummed out bandmate Brad Williams, who ended up lugging his heavy-looking standup bass to the venue for no reason. Perhaps a third apology is in order?
Andy Downing photo