The Denmark Veseys were, in a way, an inspired booking for the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Barack Obama's inauguration. The duo takes its name from an American slave who bought his freedom with lottery winnings, became a carpenter and co-founded an African Methodist Episcopal church. He was executed with some of his collaborators when authorities uncovered his plans for a massive slave rebellion.
By appearances, neither The Denmark Veseys' drummer Steve Drizos nor singer-songwriter Jerry Joseph could claim any direct ethnic or cultural connection to their namesake. Still, however obscure the reference, and despite his sprawling erudition, Joseph's gut-felt delivery and rough emotionalism lay waste to genteel assumptions about how other people live. Had he been around in King's time, he'd surely have been an asset to the civil rights movement.
Now, Joseph is perhaps most effective, and disturbing, when limning lives dominated by substance abuse, a frequent theme in his catalog. That's a master whose torment he's experienced personally; he recalled a stay at Sierra Tucson ("a very nice rehab") by way of introducing a song inspired by one of his co-residents there--a hockey player from Detroit who sang in the shower. Joseph wrote the song, "New Psychology of Love," without benefit of a guitar, because instruments were forbidden in the program. "Fastest Horse," although semi-allegorical, was piercing in its suggestion of codependency, a condition depicted much more coarsely, and chillingly, in "Hallelujah Trail." "Welcome to the Other 95 Percent of the World" was a wry litany of ways Joseph would celebrate a friend's anniversaries of being clean, if the friend were actually clean. It provided drummer Steve Drizos his best chance to shine during an evening in which he delivered essential structure and accents in a supporting role.
In their second set, The Denmark Veseys were joined by opener Bret Mosley, who also accompanies them on their forthcoming album. Mosley's own performance energized the room with his passion and the unique sound of his Depression-era Dobro lap-steel guitar. A crowd favorite was his cover of a song he said was the theme for his misguided decade in the business world, Jackson Browne's "The Pretender."