When Elliott Murphy and Olivier Durand stepped onto the stage at Valentine’s Saturday night a little after 10 p.m., a few in the crowd might have been fooled.
The duo, after all, were carrying acoustic guitars, leading one to suspect that the audience would be in for an evening of easy listening. But nothing could have been further from the truth, and for the next two hours the duo peeled through a vicious set of high octane rock ’n’ roll with nary a chance to catch their breath between each song.
The small crowd of about 40 rabidly ate up each word and strummed chord coming off the stage from the minute Murphy launched into set-opener “Crepuscule,” off his latest, 2008’s “Notes From the Underground.” It’s a shame the audience numbered so small, although the intimacy was all the better for the folks who did show up. And after the first two songs, Murphy beckoned everyone to come as close to the stage as possible, further enhancing the atmosphere in Valentine’s small downstairs bar.
From the high-energy “Sonny,” to the crashing call-and-response guitar chording of “Green River,” to the hauntingly beautiful “Pneumonia Alley” and “Anastasia,” the set drew a broad mix from Murphy’s 300-plus song back catalog. The rockers flowed seamlessly with the more introspective moments, with Durand serving up both slabs of distorted, fiery soloing and delicate color, often within the same song.
Murphy, it turned out, had another ace up his sleeve, inviting his son Gaspard onstage during the mid-set “Canaries in the Mind” for some powerful shredding on his Les Paul guitar. He rejoined the duo again on “Diamonds By the Yard,” which closed out the set proper.
While the backing musicians were both uniformly fantastic, it was still Murphy’s show, and the man did not disappoint. His dry, Lou-Reed-meets-Bob-Dylan vocals were in top form, especially on the aforementioned “Pneumonia Alley,” which Murphy dedicated to his mother, and on the anthemic “Drive All Night,” which contained Murphy’s self-admitted “worst rhyme I’ve ever made in my career — ‘teenage’ with ‘clean age.’ ” As such, he ordered his audience to sing along, and the crowd was only too happy to oblige (they’d been dancing and singing the whole time, anyway).
But best of all was the classic “Last of the Rock Stars,” which Murphy built into a cathartic climax, pushing the already excited audience up into the stratosphere. These fans had been Murphy-starved in this country for the past eight years. Here’s hoping his next visit will be much sooner in the future.
Murphy followed a strong opening set from German singer-songwriter Jann Klose, who brought his own secret weapon with upright bassist Chris Marolf. His playing nearly threatened to overshadow Klose, especially on a particularly tasty solo during the slightly funky “It’s Not the Way.”
Klose’s set leaned towards moody, introspective material, such as the family-oriented tunes “Mother Said, Father Said” and “Watching You Go,” an impassioned song about Klose’s grandfather. His expressive voice shone through especially well on these numbers, going from a smooth tenor to almost falsetto on occasion. He was at his best on a hauntingly beautiful new song, tentatively titled “Still,” that closed out the set with lilting finger picking and half-whispered vocals.
The evening jump-started at 8 p.m. with local blues rockers The Gutter Saints, who offered a fine set of originals and covers such as The Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” and “Before You Accuse Me.” The simply adequate band was greatly enhanced by lead guitarist Andy Wheeler, who offered up some serious blues raunch in his playing.