It seems fitting that the first 90 degree day of the year served as a backdrop for Josh Rouse’s performance return to the region. After all, as a crisp 90 minute concert last night at the Kentucky Center for the Arts’ Bomhard Theater in Louisville emphasized, a Rouse song is essentially a seasonal tonic – as in the handheld kind that usually comes decorated with a tiny paper umbrella.
Though the show went heavy on material from Rouse’s new album, The Happiness Waltz, the roots of the show again embraced the summery pop lyricism that has always been at the heart of the singer’s music.
On record, Rouse’s masterful way with a melody is enhanced by specific and often orchestrated arrangements that underscore the elegance of pop references that range from cosmopolitan to Mediterranean. Last night, the first show of a summer tour, he had only a backup trio to embellish the music.
Quite often, that was all he needed. For two tunes from the very tropically minded 2010 album El Turista – specifically, Lemon Tree (where the entire band worked bluegrass-style around a single microphone) and I Will Live on Islands (which balanced light, animated vocals with darting rhythmic exchanges in a way that brought to mind Graceland-era Paul Simon) – the music sounded remarkably complete.
On some the newer works from The Happiness Waltz, though – particularly, The Western Isles and the show-opening Lot Like Magic – Rouse played the role of pure pop romantic, offering efficient, lean but still quite arresting versions of songs that were light in tone and very heavy on sentiment.
There was a nice curve ball within the new music, too. During The Ocean, the pop extended into longer, more markedly melancholy shades of pop reflection that, curiously, sounded like a less psychedelic version of My Morning Jacket.
In the Meantime and Sad Eyes concluded the show, thus closing out, before the season officially began, one round of summer. No wonder the weather forecast for the drive home mentioned the approach of heavy storms.
Wisconsin’s Field Report – led by singer/songsmith/rhythm guitarist Christopher Porterfied, a one-time bandmate of a pre-Bon Iver Justin Vernon – opened with a very intriguing set of spacious, impressionistic pop.
Lyrically, songs like I Am Not Waiting Anymore and Taking Alcatraz seemed to possess an opaque spiritual cast. But the wash of guitar and pedal steel over Porterfield’s often plaintive vocals reflected an ambient cool that worked as a separate entity from the storylines. Definitely a band worth keeping track of.