For a variety of reasons, the idea and inherent problem with singer/songwriter music—the obsolete baby boomer era form that nearly always exists for purely narcissistic purposes—has been occupying far too much of my time. The upside to this quandary is the great artists whose work is subverting this self-absorption while adapting some of its stylistic trappings.
John Melillo (billed as his band Algae & Tentacles, but performing solo) raised a holy racket with just his electric guitar and voice. Half the time, his guitar didn't even sound like a guitar, but a noise factory, albeit a very melodic noise factory. Melillo's literate and expressive songs, sculpted from the fringes of what could barely be considered rock 'n' roll to begin with, were by turns frenetic and relaxed, but always fantastic.
Denver's Dear Rabbit (the persona of Rence Liam) abandoned rock 'n' roll altogether. His music could not be separated from his performance, as he assumed the role of a hilarious carnival barker in between his songs, which resembled early 20th-century folk ballads. He plugged a decrepit nylon string guitar into a decrepit amplifier and frequently abandoned the microphone, evoking the scratchy 78 rpm records his music might have originated from. He accompanied himself sometimes with a coronet or a melodica, and stomped his foot hard enough to shake the floor. Dear Rabbit is a singular talent—a rarity we often forget exists in the post-everything world.
The only humor present in Ex-Cowboy's set was overheard jokes between the band members, though they too owe almost nothing to rock tradition. Frontman Michael Huerta, this time playing with a larger band than I've seen him with before, including a violinist and accordion player, articulates the resigned acknowledgement of someone who knows it's far too late for redemption. Like Robert Johnson's "Hellhound on My Trail," Huerta is completely convincing in the role of a man riding the ferry into the inferno, which makes the droning blare framing his whispers that much more frightening. Ex-Cowboy is difficult and uncomfortable in a rewarding fashion, and their uncluttered and unparalleled portraiture of damnation might just save you.