Susan Cowsill was just as powerful a performer as I'd hoped. She kept the clutch of hardcore folk fans at the Red Dragon in the palm of her hands, which in itself is not the most difficult task; they are true believers in acoustic music. What she does that is special is she whips the listener around with her on the emotional roller coaster of being alive, in all its tragic, embarrassing, joyous and contemplative glory. During the intro to a song about her exile from New Orleans, she started cutting up, mock-chastising the crowd, "Look, people, let's get serious. Lives and property were lost," and kept it up throughout the song until one moment when she tossed out, "C'mon, I'm trying not to cry up here," quickly adding, "I wish I was joking." Sure, maybe that move is a little passive aggressive, but it totally worked. You could feel stifled laughter and a quick gulp overtake the room, which is the only way you can take in tragedy.
Emo is a genre of music that embodies this, and while I think I missed the time bracket for it to be particularly salient to me, I've been a fan of the Get Up Kids since their inception. And while the band grew to brusque at the unfortunate term, it still fits, with the emotional firehose spraying from their urgent, punk-informed melodies. Singer Matt Pryor has done a lot of growing up since The Kids called it quits in 2005, and it shows on his solo CD Confidence Man. He still has the same yearning and knack for a good hook, but has traded the flare-up guitar for an acoustic setting. It could be seen as an extension of his other band the New Amsterdams, but solo, Pryor is more engaging and even a little funny -- on the brief, bittersweet "Loralai," he says, "I don't want you to know that I don't want you to go because you've got my only set of keys." Pryor will appear Monday at the Spanish Moon.
Another guy with a powerful stage persona is Lil' Dave Thompson. I know I mention him every time he comes through, but there is a reason: He's one of those performers who can illuminate what potential there still is in the blues, through his gospel stomp, electrifying guitar work, original songs and his wide range of styles. Jazz and blues standard DownBeat ran a feature I wrote about him in the July issue this summer, but you have a chance to witness him in the down-home setting of Teddy's in Zachary this Saturday, neither of which will disappoint.