Show Review

Brian Ahnmark
A standard folk rock concert doesn't typically climax in a no-holds-barred stage dive by a frontman.

But Delta Spirit isn't your standard band, and their stage persona is anything but typical.

The SoCal quintet headlined a fabulous triple bill on June 23 at The Basement, alongside The Romany Rye (who brought the rousing, wholesome flavor of Laurel Canyon to Central Ohio) and Ezra Furman & The Harpoons (whose acousti-punk set was far more than a warm-up, getting the feisty crowd nice and lathered). Furman himself was a revelation – biting, intelligent and unpredictable, like Howlin' Pelle Almqvist in Chuck Taylors and a collared shirt.

But alas, 'twas the Delta Spirit who ultimately locked eyes and horns with an audience thirsty for song and spectacle. Great bands are bound to have great fans, but rarely do artist and listener connect in that Pete Townshend Lifehouse manner. Standing in the pit, one gets the sense that any of the rabid followers rubbing elbows could ably fill in for lead vocalist and principal songwriter Matt Vasquez – minus the charisma and easy confidence, of course.

Touring in support of their remarkable sophomore album History From Below, Delta Spirit turned The Basement into a certifiable choir rehearsal, resplendent with fist-pumps, hand claps and unsolicited harmonies. The band opened with the gospel-tinged “People, Turn Around” from their 2008 debut Ode to Sunshine – then promptly segued mid-song into “Bushwick Blues,” the lead single stomp from their new album. Vasquez's commitment was undeniable, sweat flying from his long hair as he commanded the stage, spittle glistening in the backlight as he barked out lyrics.

A veritable cascade of songs both new and old left the crowd breathless. History From Below standout “White Table” took on new life in the live setting. Vasquez noted that multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich was responsible for penning the tune, and Winrich took ownership of the performance, as well, leaping from his piano stool to hammer out rhythm on a floor tom, then ultimately beating out the closing measures on an extra snare drum. “Ransom Man”- introduced by Vasquez as “a song about reverse Stockholm Syndrome” - was similarly stunning, trading in the album version's acoustic/harmonium foundation for a deafening, cacophonous ending.

After a tongue-in-cheek piano ballad singalong of the Pink Floyd classic “Wish You Were Here,” Winrich picked up his signature aluminum garbage pail lid and tambourine – and the faithful erupted, correctly interpreting the telltale warning that the band was about to rip into its beloved “Trashcan.” As Vasquez belted, “If you hide your questions, there's no answer / I finally found the cure for my own cancer,” the overwhelming sensation was that artist and audience shared the exact same sentiment at the exact same moment.

A key part of the Delta Spirit stage spectacle is lost on record; every band member is an able multi-instrumentalist, and only in concert can you see Vasquez sling off his six-string and man the keys with a homeless sparkle to the eye. The rhythmic complexity of the songs suddenly makes sense to the ear, such as when Winrich engages a marching band drum in a fistfight and duels out the epic finale of “Children” with percussionist Brandon Young, who so generously shares his cymbals with anyone who cares to give a smash. It's one part performance, one part gleeful vandalism.

By the time Delta Spirit reached the encore one hour in, there was nothing left to prove. But the boys went ahead and stamped an exclamation mark on the evening, digging into the back catalog for a rendition of “Motivation,” their first-ever song from their out-of-print debut EP. Somehow the band transformed the Libertines-esque rocker into The Isley Brothers' “Shout,” and what transpired was magical. As Vasquez implored, “And a little bit softer now,” each band member gradually descended to the floor. The crowd followed suit, leaving the entire patronage of The Basement huddled in puddles of spilled beer.

“And a little bit louder now” set off chaos. Vasquez ultimately bounded into a welcoming lake of hands in the pit, an appropriate gesture of unity between Delta Spirit and its loyal following.

It's a wonder they gave him back to the band.