Howe Gelb and Inara George

The Echo, Los Angeles, Saturday, May 14

With their infatuation for storytelling and unmistakable stage presence, two singer-songwriters, Inara George and Howe Gelb, found two distinct and engaging ways to win over the crowd during an early show on May 14 at the Echo in Los Angeles.

George, the daughter of Little Feat guitarist and songwriter Lowell George, performed songs from her debut album, All Rise, which has been collecting enraptured notices since its January release. The Topanga Canyon native seemed to be the bigger draw, as a considerable portion of the crowd had seen her before and was familiar with the tunes. As on the record, George's voice was ethereal and vulnerable, searching and lingering.

Behind three microphones, each endowed with its own atmospheric significance, Howe Gelb took to the stage as the tall-tale-teller from Tucson. The prolific musician, best known as the founder of longstanding alt-country band Giant Sand, opened with what he called the "cocktail portion of the show": "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," which he then fused into "Moon River." This was the first of a number of standards played in the style captured on Cover Magazine, Giant Sand's moody, idiosyncratic 2002 collection featuring versions of "Iron Man," "The Beat Goes On," and "King of the Road." Gelb changed the mood with his "first song from that first record" and, after waiting for the audience to name the hometown of Enigma Records (nobody came up with the answer: Culver City), played "Down on Town/Love's No Answer" from 1985's Valley of Rain.

It was an unassumingly loose-limbed performance; Gelb courted requests from fans of such records as Glum, Hisser and the much-lauded Chore of Enchantment. The garrulous musician regaled the crowd nimbly, remarking on everything from how best to drink tequila to his recent work on a gospel choir album.

This was music for bellying up to the bar, but the audience was transfixed by the singer. When Gelb invited Polly Harvey to join him on stage, she emerged out of the audience in a short black dress and red and black "armwarmers." As they sang "Dear Diary," it occurred to me that the fact that PJ's appearance was met not with overwhelming applause, but pleasant astonishment, encapsulated the entire evening. For those who came out to see both George and Gelb, enchantment was anything but a chore.

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