Sunday, April 14, 2024

In-crowd Sing-a-long, Marriage Proposal Highlight Vanderslice Show

Despite playing to an underpopulated crowd in an obscure Lake Worth lounge on a rainy Thursday night, John Vanderslice still proved to have plenty of

tricks and surprises up his sleeve when he performed at the Speakeasy Sept. 1.

Vanderslice, the underrated San Francisco bandleader and purveyor of intricate, ambitious story-songs, was the first major national act to be booked at the Speakeasy. More will come thanks to the efforts of promoter Steve Rullman of – that is, if they’ll be able to find the place. The Speakeasy takes its name seriously; with no storefront or clearly visible address, the lounge appears to be deliberately hidden. With the route my GPS was sending me, it looked as if John Vanderslice would be playing in either a bank, a pizza shop or a quick mart.

But once you get inside, the environs are quite nice, with reasonably priced drinks and more than reasonable specials ($4 flavored margaritas last night). The bar is segmented from the concert area so that the lounge can accommodate two types of patrons at once without the ambiance of one bleeding into the other. Al Capone posters line the walls to reinforce the Speakeasy’s bootlegging theme, and there’s an unbecoming square pole jutting out of the stage, front and center, that will obstruct the views of many more bands in the future, but nobody’s perfect.

John Ralston, one of South Florida’s most established indie rock frontmen, opened the show with his three-piece band, playing primarily from his newly

released third full-length, “Shadows of the Summertime.” I’ve found Ralston’s upbeat Americana to be solid, if not terribly exciting, but he’s getting better and more mature with every release. No longer the derivative emo artist who released “Needle Bed” for Vagrant Records in the mid-‘00s, Ralston is now an accomplished musician who could share a stage with Steve Earle or Alejandro Escovedo any day. He’s also looking more and more Jesus-y every time I see him; appropriately his new vinyl single is called “Jesus Christ.”

When Vanderslice took the stage, he ushered his 30 or so followers to approach the stage so that he could “see our dental work.” Most were uncomfortable with being close enough to catch Vanderslice’s sweat droplets, and many would rather not stand in general, which I can understand. Vanderslice’s music is the stuff of deep, introspective headphone listening, not toe-tapping, fist-pumping singalongs.

At any rate, his set list was terrific. Vanderslice is a passionate performer, even when his songs make sense only to him; you can tell this from every outstretched syllable. He was alone on stage, playing a variety of

songs from his back catalog in spartan, unadorned forms. The songs retained their power without the instrumental harmony and orchestration that we’ve come to expect out of his records; they prompted a greater immersion into Vanderslice’s elaborate lyrics.

The first of the aforementioned surprises occurred midway through the set, when Vanderslice brought a special guest named Vinnie onto the stage, apparently to join him in a song. Vinnie used the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend in the crowd, an unexpected question-popping that Vinnie and Vanderslice coordinated over the phone in advance. She said yes, of course, and it was a sweet moment, followed by the new fiancées’ memorable slow-dance to “Promising Actress,” my favorite Vanderslice song.

Later, Vanderslice brought Ralston and his band on stage for a rousing rendition of “Keep the Dream Alive,” complete with solos on every instrument. He then went off-mic, unplugged and into the crowd for “White Dove” and “Time to Go,” a classy, show-stopping and interactive experience that deserved a much bigger turnout.

Set list (from what I remember; this is probably out of order and I’m probably forgetting stuff…):


I’ll Never Live Up to You

Trance Manual

Pale Horse

Sunken Union Boat


Scorpio Rising

Dear Sarah Shu

Too Much Time

Numbered Lithograph

Promising Actress

White Plains

Lucifer Rising

Keep the Dream Alive

White Dove

Time to Go


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