Review: The Delines at Whelans
"We'd like to send this set out to George Byrne. Wherever he is, I hope he listens to us, and we don't sound too bad…" Willy Vlautin, The Delines' guitar-playing ringleader, remembering the man who never missed a show by Vlautin's other band, Richmond Fontaine.
When the Herald's resident movie and music expert passed away in April, Vlautin recorded a campfire tribute back home in Portland, Oregon. They'd shared many a memorable hour, Willy and George (some of 'em in Fallon's pub). Tonight, one of America's finest roots players is sporting a badge of our old buddy on his chest. Nice touch, dude.
Who or what are the Delines? The official tagline tells us it's "a new project from Willy Vlautin". We're reluctant to call them a supergroup, and we're not sure if we should drop the 'new'. After all, The Delines started life back in 2012, when Vlautin - vocalist, songwriter, revered novelist and the voice of American alt-country heroes, the aforementioned Richmond Fontaine - began to write songs for The Damnations' Amy Boone to sing.
Then came the band (RF's Sean Oldham is on drums; Freddy Trujillo, bass - it's a talented ensemble, for sure). Suited and booted in Whelan's, they've left the check shirts at home - it's time for the grown-ups to come out and play.
The songs are remarkable, the Delines executing a warm and soulful, US late-night bar band kinda groove with Boone's exceptional and most experienced vocal adding an extra layer of heartbreak and depth to Vlautin's exquisite storytelling.
There ain't no room for rocking out up there. A restrained and refined Vlautin is simply lost in Boone's fractured yet resilient vocal. It's a gorgeous instrument - she, too, is into this. "I get in a trance when I'm up here," she declares. That pretty much sums up The Delines: an enchanting and rewarding live unit in which keyboardists juggle brass and an exemplary pedal steel player earns his crust.
The Delines have only the one album, Colfax, and a (sold-out) road record, so tonight is all about testing the water with second LP goodies. "Because we like y'all," says Boone. And we're very cool with that.
The old familiars (The Oil Rigs at Night, I Won't Slip Up, Colfax Avenue) wrap their arms around us. It's a smooth, smart and, occasionally, humorous offering; enviably tight and yet reasonably chilled in all the right places (bassist Freddy's moment in the spotlight is pretty neat).
A new album is due next year. Are The Delines in this for the long run? Well, they do finish out their set with a warm hug - they'll be with us for a while yet. George would have loved it HHHHI
> CHRIS WASSER