The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday May 19th

Crooked Keeps Essence of Rock Alive in Unique, Dynamic Durham Performance

Crooked Fingers
The Basement

Music with real character -- music that towers and stands apart from the run-of-the-mill soup that can dominate too many clubs and shows -- is hard to come by.

Crooked Fingers' music has that kind of character. After two bland and forgettable opening acts Friday night at Durham's The Basement, Crooked Fingers unleashed a firebrand set of fresh air -- twisted and touching, lyrically thick and musically vibrant.

Fingers flows from the grit and sweat of local indie rock hero Eric Bachmann, who has abandoned the familiar confines of his '90s Chapel Hill rock institution, the Archers of Loaf. He's now spent two albums and a handful of years as Crooked Fingers, a dusty and dark rock outing with more Tom Waits and less Tom Petty.

There's a bleak beauty to all of Bachmann's songs, a twisted Western twang and an electric barroom edge. Most of the set found Bachmann on a sharp and tinny guitar with drums, a standing bass and an electronic tape loop backing him up. The lineup makes for a unique, grittily authentic sound that immediately defines the band and separates them from the rock crowd.

"Doctors of Deliverance" and the excellent "Black Black Ocean" were foot-stomping, careening rockers, while songs like "Broken Man" and closer "A Little Bleeding" were gentle and quiet, more honey than hard. Alternately crunching or crooning, some of the songs ran together and sounded a little too much like their counterparts.

But the majority of the songs in the set were too good to be confused, too strong to be forgotten.

Songs like "Crowned in Chrome," "Hurricane," and fan favorite "New Drink for the Old Drunk" won over the crowd with their force, attitude and unrelenting melodies. The new "Sweet Marie" featured a gorgeous, lilting melody and a softer, unplugged approach.

Halfway through the set, when the band unplugged for a few quiet numbers, it became clear how beautiful Bachmann's voice can be, drawing out every last ounce of emotion.

It all comes back to Bachmann's voice -- it's flooring, a wonder from the baritone pits of his throat. He snarls and growls, but he also pulls back, singing sweetly and delicately. Bachmann's stage presence is captivating, ferociously attacking the microphone or wrapping his hands around it, whispering a tune into it. He has moments of pure fire and moments of true stillness.

He bursts into dense "The Rotting Strip," purring, "Blurry eyes half-bent/ and I can't take you sober" -- a scratchy, cigarette assault on vocals that reverberated around the packed club.

Crooked Fingers' songs revisit death, nothingness and sickened, angry longing in a twilight carousel of themes. The set was like a dusty rock carnival.

It's a unique, charged sound that is the band's own -- it's rock music that stands alone, and all the better for it.

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