Malcolm Holcombe is in town. Lock up your frail of heart and keep a watch on your dark of soul. What with bad back and cold weather (ow) I missed him at the Living Room on Saturday night, even though he shared a bill with dusky Dayna Kurtz, who is wonderful. Last night, out it was to see him in Williamsburg, right across Metropolitan Ave. from my lately-favored beer hang, Spuyten Duyvil. It was too auspicious to pass up.
I’d tell you where he plays out there, but I’d have to kill you. The joint is crowded enough already. Note to Aussie guy dressed up like a cowboy with spats: “You make a better door than a window, buddy” is not how we ask people if they can move aside a little. And cowboys don’t wear spats. Not up here, and not down under.
Frankly, Malcolm Holcombe is just impossible. On top of that, he’s in a mood. I say he’s impossible because he’s an unwatered God-given talent, and he just doesn’t seem to get the living-in-real-life thing. I say he’s in a mood because just a song or two into his two-set night he’s extemporizing a long and very strange story about (1) butt-roasted Brazil nuts, (2) digging for time capsules in the Brooklyn streets, and (3) tunnels and ruins and helicopters with wheels. Fasten your seatbelt.
There’s a lot to say about Malcolm, and this isn’t the time or place for most of it. Puremusic has a strong interview with Malcolm Holcombe, and he stands accurate in his own words (Kathleen Edwards, another total fave of mine, is also featured, so clearly these Puremusic folks are keeping up with their butt-roasted Brazil nuts – brain food, I gather).
What I will say is that he does things with his voice and an acoustic guitar that twist the walls down and strip your heart bare. That’s the sort of thing press flacks say about every second-rate talent that truckles down the pike, and it cheapens the currency. Malcolm is the real deal: he’ll stun you and coax you, draw you close and then push you further out. He’s a prickly, twitchy, dribbly, ticcing, sometimes hostile man who is who he is and isn’t anything else. At its most self-indulgent, Holcombe’s music is stark and alluring. At its best it is simply without peer, full of power, lean and heartbreaking and downright mystical.
Tonight Malcolm is not entirely at the top of his game, but he gives us a show, rough edges and all. My favorites among his broken ballads (“Goin’ Home,” “Teachin’ Michael Anthony,” “Only for You” and “Who Carried You”) come easily and without fanfare. He roars and babbles more than usual, working out his regular demons and also, perhaps, making a bit more peace with his devilment than I am used to. If I hadn’t seen him nights past weave such stillness out of six strings and the usual complement of fingers that the entire city was breathless and halted, I think I’d think the show was great and powerful. And it is, it is.
Seeing Malcolm Holcombe at his very best, which probably runs tandem with the worst storms of his personal weather, is an experience that no one can ever forget. He makes you believe.