Saturday, March 13

After a middling set by The Dutchess and the Duke, a Seattle duo who seemed off their game, the Cave Singers' main man Pete Quirk seized control of the room and delivered the night's musical entertainment—a patented musical elixir in a hand-me-down jar.

The image of an old-time snake-oil salesman or itinerant preacher comes from Quirk's voice, an unforgettable element seemingly distilled to pure soul over 30 miles of dirt road. But there's truth in his delivery, and the modest Plush crowd was ready to buy whatever he was selling. Fans of 16 Horsepower and Ha Ha Tonka found a lot to like about the Cave Singers, and probably didn't miss either the former's morbid religious iconography or the latter's haunted Ozark-ian warp.

That old-timey feel, and its intimations of authenticity, set the Cave Singers apart from the general run of indie-rock touring bands, and certainly their über-hip stable mates at Matador Records. The Cave Singers' Seattleite twist could be called lumberjack soul.

Nothing like the gorgeous, almost John-Denver-like acoustic guitar opening to "Summer Light" has been heard since the great roots-rock scare of the 1990s. Derek Fudesco's picking was consistently, imaginatively lovely in the minor mode all night long. What brought the sound up to the minute, though, was the drumming—insistent and inescapable as pursuing hounds. A new song featured a powerful burst of almost-African-sounding drumming so invasive as to inspire several fans to tap along on whatever was nearest their fingers. On another song, drummer Marty Lund set aside his kit for a bongo break, and on another, he clipped a tambourine to his cymbals like a one-man band.

It didn't matter that Quirk's lyrics were difficult for new listeners to follow if heard live for the first time; his poetry is murky even for those who know it by heart. It mattered that the sound of his voice lured listeners through the musical arrangements into the dark spirit his words described.

Opening act the Moondoggies rounded out the trio of Seattle bands with music that photographer Lisa Healey said reminded her of Crazy Horse, the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead.

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