On Wednesday night, country/power-pop/rock musician Ike Reilly performed Unplugged, backed by his guitarist from the Ike Reilly Assassination, Phil Karnatz.
The location was Philadelphia, USA, at the distinguished World Caf Live, housed in its impressive year-old complex (along with WXPN radio, another live-music venue, and a recording studio). Opening was a fine, contemporary folkster from Ireland-via-New York, Brendan O’Shea.
Mr. Reilly is very talented and I would love to see the full band, electrified, tearing it up. He and Karnatz offered a couple of glimpses of what that sounds like last night, and it was excellent. Otherwise, the duo, and often just Reilly, played more countrified versions of songs from each of Reilly’s three (one solo), first-rate albums.
Reilly is a trip. On the one hand, he delves into the heaviest of issues. At this show nearly every song dealt with heroin or cocaine (that “made the day last forever”), and the few songs that didn’t touched on the devil, God, his mother’s death, or whiskey. While Reilly often seems to have a strong faith, he also sings enthusiastically about flying down the highway in a convertible, wasted, with Jerry Lee Lewis and “an under-aged date,” and about having burned down his house, and such. At one point Reilly altered what I had formerly thought to be a pretty humorous song, stopping on the line about his gun and how he had “sucked on its barrel plenty of times,” and then slowly repeating the line, a cappella, two more times.
Yikes. But don’t be fooled. As brutal as all of the above sounds, somehow Reilly is also quite warm, melodic and even upbeat. Seriously. In fact, the prevailing feeling from the CD that hooked me, the recent Junkie Faithful, was redemption. Reilly also happens to be an extremely talented vocalist with a strong, clear voice that seems to ring out and rise above the harsh subject matter. Considering that his lyrics are obviously taken from his own life, as well as the fact that he was actually out of music for a long time before now seeing some success well into his thirties – he is actually pretty inspiring.
It may have been due to my expectations from Junkie Faithful and/or his song selection, but I was surprised that Reilly had me recalling early Violent Femmes‘ and their supremely twisted, Country Death Song. The difference, of course, is that Reilly’s music is not quite that twisted, it’s better written, better sung and it is more, uh…uplifting?…or something like that.