Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Which Damon And Naomi Bring Their Magic To D.C.'s Red Palace

Damon and Naomi are proof that creating something delicate and lovely in a loud world does not mean you have to be pretentious about it.

After seeing the duo, with Bhob Rainey, perform at D.C.'s Red Palace last night, I can say that the husband-and-wife performers managed to deliver what this fan wanted to hear plus a little bit more.

On tour to promote their fantastic new record False Beats and True Hearts, the duo opened with "How Can I Say Goodbye" and expanded the song into a warm duet. What was a showcase for Naomi Yang's beautiful vocals on the record was now a more robust affair, with Damon Krukowski lending the track more emotional urgency. The song played to the strengths of each performer and, clearly, the couple are one of musical equals.

So much for equality as Naomi took the lead to deliver a stunning version of "Lilac Land" from the band's Within These Walls (2007) album. Sounding a lot like Sandy Denny, Naomi's voice soared from behind her keyboard which produced harpsichord-like figures.

Alasdair MacLean, from tour-mates Amor de Dias (and The Clientele), sat in on guitar for a few songs since Michio Kurihara had his passport stolen and couldn't make it past US immigration, apparently.

Recalling Roddy Frame's guitar-picking on Aztec Camera's Knife (1984), MacLean added a nice twist to "Walking Backwards" which had a more languid feel here despite some feisty moments on guitar.

On "Ueno Station" from 2005's The Earth Is Blue, it was Damon's turn to be the emotional center of the performance. Between this song, "A Second Life" from the same album, and the between-the-songs patter -- and those free drink tickets to a few lucky patrons -- Damon Krukowski seemed the effusive host of the gig.

What's worth noting -- but shouldn't be a surprise, I guess -- is that someone can create beautiful art without being precious about it.

From the new album, Naomi used a combination of effects from her keyboard, and her wonderful voice, to deliver an affecting version of "Nettles and Ivy" that seemed more immediate than the version on the record.

I think the mark of great songwriting is that the songs work in various settings. After seeing last night's concert, I can say that the songs on Damon and Naomi's False Beats and True Hearts work on the record and live, with each version slightly different than the other.

After renditions of more cuts from False Beats and True Hearts -- "What She Brings" and "Helsinki" -- the group closed with an Emmylou Harris cover.

As I chatted with both Damon and Naomi after the gig -- after a lovely set by Amor de Dias -- I thought how unfair it is that a band like this gets tagged and labeled. And I thought that those moments of simplicity and beauty on their records were produced by two hard-working musicians and artists, not a bunch of effete shoegazers.

(Besides, Damon and Naomi were never part of that scene, despite being lumped in at times with that bunch, at least the American wing.)

No, with influences ranging from Sinatra to British folk, and with a touch of the avant-garde, Damon and Naomi continue to produce uniquely Ameircan non-mainstream pop music.

Without a lot of fuss or fury or fluff, the pieces all add up and things come together and the magic happens.

Catch Damon and Naomi on tour with Amor de Dias now!

Tour dates are here.

Their website:

And False Beats and True Hearts is out now on CD, vinyl, and MP3 from all the usual retailers!