SARATOGA SPRINGS – Equal parts unplugged acoustic session, friends-and-family homecoming, album intro and interview, Jocelyn and Chris Arndt brought their A-game to Caffe Lena Saturday.
The Fort Plain-raised Harvard grads performed most of their new “The Fun in the Fight” album, plus older tunes fans requested on Facebook, and drew the full house into a sing-a-long late in their straight-run 105-minute show. WEXT DJ Chris Wienk’s interview segments urged reflections from the relaxed, funny Arndts: why Jocelyn has four times turned down invitations to “The Voice” (they sing originals, not covers; they’re a duo) and how they accidentally stranded a former bassist in a Walmart.
Playing “unplugged” and playing seated didn’t necessarily mean quiet. Chris played acoustic guitar; David Bourgeois understated percussion on cajon, cymbals and conga; while Dan Zavadil’s bass undertowed softly. All this fit perfectly around Jocelyn’s fiery, force-of-nature voice, from the fiercely defiant opener “Jagged” to such quieter fare as the pensive, borderline desperate “Don’t Hang Up.” She was most effective – SERIOUSLY effective – building intensity then releasing tension, and their best tunes followed wave forms. All three openers did this beautifully, the mid-slow “Signs” rising and falling, “The Kill in the Cure” – most added song this week on AAA radio, Jocelyn proudly noted – riding syncopated riffs to a quiet coda.
Songs in smoother, pop style gave a mellow feel, including “Shine,” a waltz-time charmer they’d first rehearsed just before going onstage. Jocelyn had to read the lyrics but sang with a gentle soulfulness that led to the raucous country romp “Drink to the Memory,” bluesy voice ranging from pouty to powerful, trumpet-strong. They gave good, dynamic contrast throughout, the bold “Original” giving way to the torchy duet “Weatherman.”
Chris several times noted they were playing songs in public for the first time, including “Don’t Hang Up.” They play so often these days – Alive at Five July 18 with Wild Adriatic and Hasty Page – that they crafted seamless, smooth renditions. Nothing felt raw, everything was real.
When a fan asked about their influences, they thanked their parents whose CD library lent inspiration. They cited rock, blues, soul and jazz artists, but seemed far more original than owing to any style models. “Witness” did witness their affection for heroes in shout-outs: to Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” however. Sure, we could imagine Reba belting “Drink” or Pat Benatar rocking their departure-less encore “Out of My Head,” but neither would sing them as well as Jocelyn did Saturday.
Fully engaged from the moment they walked in the door, the crowd sang strong in the country chug of “The Western” (a generic title used to save it on a computer and never changed) and called out warm affection and awe. Jocelyn recalled that she and her brother played the Caffe as pre-teens. Returning clearly mattered to them and they made the most of it.