KELLEY STOLTZ with ORANGUTAN and BEN SOMERS at the Drake Underground, March 31. Tickets: $12. Attendance: 35. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Kelley Stoltz is a singer/song writer of a dying breed, a ramblin' troubadour with the rumpled energy of a surfer dude and an insatiable need to share the anecdotes he's collected during his travels.
He's a low-key storyteller cut from the same cloth as Tom Waits (without the booze-fuelled darkness), with a knack for captivating, to-the-point tunes that'd go over huge in the right venue - like, say, an open-air festival stage. So it nearly killed me to see him face off against a meagre handful of listeners in the subterranean Drake Underground Friday night.
The set-up, the sound and the space seemed all wrong for the unassuming, richly detailed bedroom rock Stoltz does so well. The atmosphere certainly didn't help opener Orangutan , alone onstage save for his Fender and a handful of looping pedals, who struggled to make some kind of connection with the sparse crowd.
Except for a few loyal pals, who cheered for Orangutan's fairly banal pop/rock ballads about loving and leaving (think James Blunt with a slight edge), the guy generated the kind of response typically reserved for irritating subway buskers. His one more complex effort - a so-called "rock opera" based on layered guitar loops à la Howie Day - started well but tapered off to the point where you barely noticed when the sound guy turned up the pre-recorded music between sets.
All of which made Stoltz's attention-grabbing performance even more remarkable. The San Fran tunesmith slouched onstage with his similarly laid-back band and quietly tuned up before immediately launching into a bouncy, perfect pop song that silenced the joint from the first raucous keyboard riff.
It's hard to believe Stoltz is a solo four-track artist by nature, since his loose, jangly psych-scarred hooks, crammed into perfectly timed three-minute narratives, exploded off the stage in the full-band setting. The real shocker, though, was the latent Vegas impresario Stoltz unleashed after a few swigs of beer.
Following several charming anecdotes - including a lead-up to Away With The Swans dedicated to a former drummer "we left behind in Amsterdam" - Stoltz grabbed the mic and swaggered through the audience in total Wayne Newton style, chatting up the ladies and flattering the fellas.
From a more pretentious performer, the loungey act would've come off slick and sleazy, but Stoltz seriously seemed to be completely caught up in the moment. And in the odd Drake Underground environment, it was a stroke of brilliance. By the end of the night, as Stoltz rushed to cram in as many tunes as he could before the venue's 11 pm cutoff, even new converts were begging for his superlative Prank Calls, which he happily delivered.
Definitely a guy who deserves to be seen in a more supportive setting.