Intermittent rain didn’t prevent what appeared to be an approaching-capacity crowd at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach Wednesday night for a bill of irreverent, barn-burning, foot-stomping, genre-mixing variants on folk and bluegrass traditions headlined by Austin iconoclast Amigo the Devil.
We arrived for opener Tejon Street Corner Thieves, a Colorado Springs quartet playing “thrashgrass,” a sped-up spin on roots music complete with banjo, guitar, upright bass and one-of-a-kind percussion: a skateboard converted into a washboard/cymbal hybrid. Complete with an unapologetic deployment of the kazoo, the set was diverting and mildly dance-able—the band requested a circle pit at one point, and a few intrepid fans heeded the call—and the group, which has signed to Amigo the Devil’s record label, made for a sensible opener. As for the lyrical content, almost all of it chronicled the joys and perils of drinking too much whisky and other potent potables. They were certainly on brand, though the shtick was beginning to wear thin by the end of the set.
But the reason most of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd showed up to the dance floor did not disappoint. As someone relatively new to headliner Danny Kiranos, aka Amigo the Devil, I was unprepared for both the cultish dedication from his most hardcore base and the transformation his studio recordings undergo in a live setting. Kiranos’ records do not do justice the animated nature of his concerts.
As a solo performer with the outsized charisma of a full band, he cycled through acoustic and electric guitars and banjos with thunderous dashes of pedal percussion. His eyes were wild and penetrating, and his vocals often unhinged as they navigated a spectrum from plaintive folk confessions to guttural metal growls. In a highlight among a set of highlights, he absolutely shredded through an amplified version of “Murder at the Bingo Hall,” a raucous banger rife with disco strobe effects and, like many of his inviting compositions, plenty of audience interaction.
We were also happy to help out with percussive handclaps on Kiranos’ a cappella version of “Better Ways to Fry a Fish,” a song about a revenge fantasy, and the soaring chorus of “I Hope Your Husband Dies,” a tune whose title says it all—and whose backstory, delivered by Kiranos mid-song, darkened its content all the more.
For a singer-songwriter this obsessed with death—the theme also showed up in the murder ballad “Perfect Wife,” “Drop For Every Hour,” “Dahmer Does Hollywood” and rousing closer “Quiet As a Rat”—he brought a gregarious, witty and light atmosphere to the rainy night. He’s possessed of a winning brand of self-effacing humor that took the edge off such morose self-reflections as “Another Man’s Grave,” which he promptly followed by adding, “And you thought you were here to have fun!”
Likewise, a song like “Cocaine and Abel” laid bare a litany of regrets and frailties; sharing its mental bandwidth can be a heavy load. Keeping it light between tracks helped strike the perfect balance between campfire sing-alongs and emotional exorcisms. While the concert included plenty of longtime fans shouting along to every lyric, the room surely included curious newbies thrilled to finally be able to see live music again. A born entertainer, he no doubt won over plenty of new acolytes.