Indie-rock quartet The Black Rabbits (who recently moved to Asheville from Orlando) was scheduled to open last night’s show at Westville Pub. In the world of live music, things don’t always go according to plan, however: When front man Jetson Black took the stage, noticeably alone, he announced (with too much detail) that his band mates had all come down with a stomach virus. And that he, himself, was not feeling so hot. (Indeed, he was wrapped in a trench coat and scarf.) Black went on to play a short set of acoustic tunes.
Solo, the songs painted Black as something of an emo singer/songwriter, with dark-ish themes of cemeteries, falling stars and love gone wrong. Hard to say how these would play out, live, with a full band (here’s a hint), but Black’s voice — even accompanied only by acoustic guitar is pure rock ‘n roll. His low notes are resonate and warm, in his higher register he hits a pleasing rasp and snarl. Black rounded out his set with “Hypno Switch,” the title track off the band’s heavy-hitting LP (produced by Billy Chapin and Stan Lynch of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers). Hooky and driving, the song provided a nice tease for the full band experience.
Next up: Hudson K from Knoxville brought only two performers to the stage: singer/songwriter/keyboardist Christina Horn and percussionist Nate Barrett. The band has existed in other numbers and formations but, set up side-by-side and facing each other on the stage, Horn and Barrett quickly made it apparent that two was the magic number.
Hudson K’s sound is parts indie-pop, Vaudeville, piano-jazz and avant-garde. It hangs easily in the balance between unique and familiar — it doesn’t take any time to adjust to and be won over by this duo. Horn’s vocal is powerful and spot on, with the lithe blue-eyed soul of Annie Lennox and the smooth folkiness of Natalie Merchant. Her originals range from darkly dramatic ballads (she claims she writes songs about bad breakups which end with her killing the wayward ex) and theatrical, Moulin Rouge-esque sonic tapestries. All pop-savvy enough to stick in the listener’s ear after the last notes have faded away.
Hudson K also turned out a number of perfectly-curated covers including Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You More,” “Take A Look at My Girlfriend” by Supertramp and Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush.” All of these were brilliantly arranged — revealing their genesis after the first verse or so, but not immediately recognizable. Horn’s style, sense of rhythm and melody is so distinct and so well-developed that any song she plays, she makes her own. In fact, the entire Hudson K set was such a well-rehearsed and professionally-done performance, it was impossible not to wonder why such a skilled group was playing to a crowd of tens rather than blasting from radios and theater stages nation-wide. Seriously. Watch for this band’s next local show.