FRANK BLACK & THE CATHOLICS at the Horseshoe, November 2. Tickets: $17.50. Attendance: 350. Rating: NNNN
At the last gig of an epic five-night engagement at the Horseshoe, you had to wonder if ol' Frank Black was getting a bit sick of this city. Playing two sets of the same material every evening can't be all that much fun, and the late start to Saturday's show -- he kept the suffocatingly packed crowd waiting over 45 minutes -- seemed like a bad omen, particularly for a man given to portentous musical prophecies.
But then, dressed in a Johnny Cash-style black suit, Black Francis hit the stage, hunched over the microphone and let out his trademark nasal growl. "All right, it's Saturday night. Let's get drunk!"
Backed by his Catholics, possibly the best and tightest fuckin' backup band in the business, Black barrelled through a slew of country-infused snarly bar-rock tunes, the honky-tonk piano and mournful slide guitars transforming the Horseshoe into an old-time saloon
He played dark-cloaked musical preacher throughout both sets, howling doomsday decrees ("If man is five, the devil is six and God is seven!") and letting loose with searing guitar solos that he played with his back to the hooting and hollering crowd.
The denim-loving, lager-swilling audience, most of whom must have come of age in the Pixies era, ate up the older tunes with fanatic gusto, chanting the chorus of an ambling, stripped-down Wave Of Mutilation in unison.
But Black's newer material, from this summer's one-two album punch of alt-country Black Letter Days and sparkling rock Devil's Workshop, was the best of the night. From the anguished acoustic yowl of Jane The Queen Of Love and the squalling Heloise to the raunchy garage bluster of Whiskey In Your Shoes, the tunes evoked the same contemporary-classic feel of a Here Comes Your Man, in a way that doesn't translate onto disc.
And when Black took it down a notch for the bluesy Summertime-quoting How You Went So Far, it was transcendent.
Spiritual rawk bliss.