Show review: Kevin Lee Newberry and Zeke

Sandgren-Women Wrestlers Car

Venue: Club TSI
Date: July 22, 2009
By: Jack Diablo
While the seen and be seen hipster set indie-stomped and feigned appreciation for local art, the down-and-out gathered at TSI of all places for a mellow night of heavy-hearted musical gormandizing.
Normally the place to go for synth-driven dance or cutting edge musical performances, Club TSI opened its doors for an acoustic show featuring some of Northeast Florida’s greatest troubadours. For at least one night, the discotheque shed its scenester skin and became the dive it pretends not to be. Had they poured fingers of whiskey the place would have been awash in it, a refuge for those seeking to avoid the social limelight, if only for the night.
Infintesmal recording artists Zeke and Kevin Lee Newberry appeared along with Gainesville’s Little High Little Low. Although the cover charge on the off-night, mid-week event kept the crowd modest, those that did show up were eager and receptive of what was in store.
Zeke reluctantly opened the show playing a set of indie-folk Americana. And by Will Oldham’s beard it was exactly what I wanted to hear at that moment. He sings the sorrow of Ryan Adams to the mellifluous laid-back jams of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. The music sounds like a cross-country musical trek. Born somewhere in the Northwest and picking up stories and sounds as it moved along, it ultimately decided to linger in the South. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way it found itself in the very capable hands of Zeke and you should be glad of that.
Kevin Lee Newberry appropriately played a little later in the evening, giving the audience enough time imbibe a reasonable number of beverages and possibly make a mistake or two before he started. Newberry’s music (and performance) are of the whiskey-drenched variety, the kind of music that is written in a locked room with a bottle of pills, tons of booze, and as many cigarettes. Fusing the minimalist lyrical prowess of Leonard Cohen with the dark country-blues of Townes Van Zandt, every chord and every line are steeped in the sorrow and the heartache of the junkie, the abused, and the lonesome. It is music from a storybook of Southern Gothic Americana, a working class dramedy told through song.
But just as the best blues men and cowboy poets were known to write a happy song every now and again, Newberry is conscious of the joy in life as witnessed in the touching ode to his baby daughter, ‘Clemy Oh Clemy.’ It’s not all gloom and doom, Elliot Smith in other words. But the majority of it is, gloriously so. What shines through most beautifully is the awkwardness inherent in what he does. When he sings, “I hate socializin'” you believe it and it makes the fact that he’s up there at all, even willing to care that you hear his music, seem like a gift. When Kevin performs, it isn’t about validation or notoriety but rather about a cathartic shared experience or a group intervention of our collective soul, albeit a temporary one that will wash off in the morning as we all go back to doing the same old thing.
Kevin and Zeke are also members of the band Borromakat and will be playing August 15th at Shantytown. I, for one, will be there just to see what these two can do when they join forces.