honeyhoney & Rocco DeLuca and the Burden @ Exit/In, Nashville, 3/25/09

There’s nothing like enjoying a night of good music with a couple hundred of your closest friends. Okay, maybe calling everyone at Exit/In on March 25 my “closest friends” is a bit of a stretch, but that’s just the kind of vibe honeyhoney and Rocco DeLuca and the Burden gave the audience. Both acts have the gift of delivering new-school rock with a down-home attitude, with a spirit that makes you feel like you’ve known them for years.

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Openers honeyhoney, consisting of guitarist Ben Jaffe and singer/multi-instrumentalist Suzanne Santo, got the crowd going with their own blend of folk and indie rock. Santo, who could be likened to an Amy Winehouse weaned on Billie Holiday and grits rather than Pete Doherty and coke, regularly switched between banjo and fiddle with the ease of a true Nashvillian (she’s actually from Ohio), while infusing her vocals with a delicately tough but slightly southern flair that would leave Gillian Welch and Chrissie Hynde equally proud.

Jaffe, on the other hand, provided enough distortion and bluesy licks to keep the audience rocking. You could say she’s a little bit country, he’s a little bit… that was dangerously close to being an Osmond reference. honeyhoney went out with a bang, literally, by closing their set with 2008’s First Rodeo’s “Little Toy Gun.”

By the time Rocco DeLuca and the Burden hit the stage, Exit/In was more than ready for the dobro virtuoso to get things going again. DeLuca, who is signed to Kiefer Sutherland’s Ironworks label, was joined on stage by only one other bandmate, percussionist Ryan Carman. Now maybe it’s just me, but this stage arrangement begs one to wonder if Carman is in fact “the burden,” and if so, how he feels about this title. But I’m not here to psychoanalyze.

DeLuca and Carman opened up with “Bright Lights (Losing Control),” a number from 2009’s Mercy that begins with a slow, snaky, single-note groove and gives DeLuca the chance to show off his two greatest assets: his playing and his pipes. The duo then immediately launched into the high-energy rocker “Save Yourself” (check out the video, directed by and featuring Sutherland) before playing what would be one of the highlights of the evening, “Swing Low.”

Taken from DeLuca’s 2006 release I Trust You to Kill Me, “Swing Low” conjures images of boys on the bayou and New Orleans voodoo. Though DeLuca undoubtedly possesses an amazing vocal range, the true star of this song was his dobro. The blistering tone he conjured during the song’s extended solo sounded something like a rock and roll rocket ship, propelled by a combination of furious tapping and sliding to some strange planet where swamps engulf the ground and music rules the land.

DeLuca gave Exit/In plenty more moments of intensity, but also tried a little tenderness in between. His fingerpicking and falsetto shone on numbers “Nightengale,” “Gift,” and a stripped-down version of his popular single “Colorful.” The last of these prompted a sing-along among audience members, and DeLuca managed a sly, but gracious smirk when some didn’t hit the high notes quite like he did.

At some point during his set, DeLuca exclaimed that live music was “one of the last great American art forms.” After a show like this, it’s hard to disagree. Both honeyhoney and Rocco DeLuca and the Burden gave all they had and united the room in the spirit of true artistry. “We’re all friends up here, goddamnit,” Santo declared in between songs. By the end of the night, we were.

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