They’re an Americana band. Well, actually, an Irish-Americana band, to be specific. They call themselves Romantica, and they might be one of the fan-friendliest groups you’d ever want to meet.
The four mellow fellows from Minneapolis (including one Irish immigrant) proved it to a fortunate few who turned out for a remarkable night of country comfort music May 21 at the Soiled Dove Underground in Denver.
On an evening when most of this sports-crazed city was caught up watching the Nuggets battle the Los Angeles Lakers on TV in Game 2 of the NBA’s Western Conference finals, there were only six dozen or so witnesses to the show headlined by rising star Carrie Rodriguez.
They were the lucky ones. With Rodriguez (left) providing her fiery fiddle and Romantica offering some cool tunes, the devoted following was treated to an up-close-and-personal performance.
Especially Sara Teig of Boulder. The young woman missed Romantica’s opening set because of transportation problems, but was rewarded for her loyalty and commitment with an after-show serenade by her favorite band.
Teig looked like she was on Cloud Nine as the quartet – Ben Kyle on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Luke Jacobs, Tony Zaccardi and James Orvis, slapping a snare drum – began to play. They surrounded her near the entrance to the bathrooms. (Better acoustics or an attempt to block out the crowd noise?)
Most of the fans that had gathered for Rodriguez’s meet-and-greet were unaware of the unplugged appearance that concluded with some autographs and a group photo. (Teig is pictured with, from left, Kyle, Jacobs, Orvis and Zaccardi.)
With the economy still spiraling out of control, musicians continue to seek ways to connect with the public, but this was an unusual and exceptional celebrity encounter. And the performances were just as tremendous.
Romantica was the opening act but it never quite seemed that way, thanks to a gracious Rodriguez, the sensational and versatile singer-songwriter-fiddler who is slowly but surely turning into a headliner after years of being a team player. She was Chip Taylor’s partner for three records before going solo, and continued paying her dues while working with other major roots-rock artists such as Lucinda Williams and Alejandro Escovedo.
Rodriguez certainly remembers her roots, though, generously treating the four members of Romantica like her own bandmates, Handsome Hans Holzen on guitar and Kyle Kegerreis on upright bass.
The Austin, Texas-bred Rodriguez knows how to play well with others, and gladly shared the stage at times with the boys in the other band that’s led by the charismatic Kyle, who moved with his family from Belfast, Northern Ireland to the States when he was 13.
The thin and lanky Kyle took command of the stage from the get-go, a smooth crooner with an Irish lilt who handles tender ballads (“Ixcatan”) and solid rockers (“Queen of Hearts”) with equal ease.
During an 11-song set that featured songs from their second album, America, Kyle shared stories of his youth in introducing “Fiona” (about his experiences in a troubled Belfast) and “The National Side,” which tackles the oh-so-Un-American sport of field hockey. “When my family moved to Minnesota, my dreams of becoming a field hockey player were dashed,” Kyle said, sounding sincerely sad.
Specializing in what Kyle calls “Irish-Americana pop,” Romantica brings a full sound to the stage, aided adeptly by Jacobs (wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey) on guitars (including pedal steel), the formidable Zaccardi (at left with Kyle) on bass and drummer Orvis, who didn’t miss a beat – or lose his good-guys-wear-white cowboy hat – throughout the night. Their live show is grittier and punchier than the music of the low-key but lyrical America, one of Paste magazine’s top 100 albums of 2007 that is available online at 2024 Records.
Both Rodriguez and Holzen made guest appearances (“They’ve been dragging us around the country to play for their fans. Very nice of them, isn’t it?” Kyle remarked) near the end of the hourlong set, humbly remaining in the background on fiddle and electric guitar, respectively, during “Fiona.” Its romantic melody is offset by some heartbreaking lyrics (Took the 17 uptown / From the back of the bus you could hear the sound / Of the bombs explode / And our fears implode into the night.”)
Kyle, his vocal style more Mark Knopfler than Bono, seemed a bit surprised and genuinely touched by the crowd’s reception. He soon gave way to Rodriguez, who was in the final days of a tour of the West before heading overseas – including Ireland – to promote the European release of her second solo album, She Ain’t Me. See my review of her album here and a review of her September concert with Escovedo here.
Rodriguez, who has toured extensively with Romantica since releasing She Ain’t Me last August, was a vision to behold, wearing a leopard-print miniskirt and black heels that matched the color of her tightly curled hair.
A classically trained violinist, she relied on her scorching fiddle for most of her 90-minute set – especially on raveups such as “Absence,” “You Won’t Be Satisfied (That Way)” and “Never Gonna Be Your Bride” – but showed her all-around capabilities with turns on the electric guitar and Mandobird. Her jam with Holzen on an extended version of “Seven Angels on a Bicycle,” the ode to a dear friend who was fatally struck while riding on the streets of New York City, was an early highlight. Another was a cover of Lucinda Williams’ sultry “Steal Your Love,” during a show that primarily drew material from both of Rodriguez’s solo albums.
Sounding sexy and much more confident than she did on her September stint with Escovedo, Rodriguez seems to enjoy the spotlight. During her instrumental interludes with the incredibly gifted Holzen, she laughed heartily (even doubling over while playing electric guitar on the breathy “Rag Doll”), but spoke softly in presenting her songs to a small but adoring audience. “You make us feel like we’re performing in front of a crowd of 500 people,” a warm and thankful Rodriguez said.
No one seemed bummed by the absence of a drummer, but two-thirds of the way through the set, Rodriguez welcomed Romantica’s Orvis to the stage (“our MVP,” she said), and he was quickly followed by Jacobs on pedal steel.
The rest of Romantica appeared for the encores that included Kyle’s lead vocals on a rousing rendition of Chip Taylor’s “Big Kiss,” a song Rodriguez said is “one of my favorites that he’s ever written.”
A gratified Rodriguez promised to “come out and meet each and every one of you,” following the show, and held up her end of the bargain for anyone who stuck around.
Meanwhile, the almost all-American boys in an all-Americana band had some more work to do. And they made a few more friends along the way.
• For Carrie Rodriguez news, concert dates and to purchase her latest album Live in Louisville, go to her website or check her MySpace page.
• For Romantica news, concert dates and more, go to their website or MySpace page.
• See a clip featuring performances by both Carrie Rodriguez and Romantica at the Soiled Dove Underground below: