buckner1.jpg
Richard Buckner

The Triple Door

Saturday, August 20

Forgiving alt-country statesman Richard Buckner's opening act (Merge labelmate David Kilgour, who baffled and bored a half-empty

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Richard Buckner's Brooding Mystique Beguiles a Half-Full Triple Door Saturday Night

buckner1.jpg
Richard Buckner

The Triple Door

Saturday, August 20

Forgiving alt-country statesman Richard Buckner's opening act (Merge labelmate David Kilgour, who baffled and bored a half-empty house with his Robyn Hitchcock-meets-Billy Bragg vapid guitar act), his headlining show Saturday night at the Triple Door was a compelling glimpse into the working mind of one of the genre's most intriguing artists.

Buckner's something of a love-him-or-hate-him cult artist for alt-country enthusiasts. His back catalog (11 albums scattered over six labels) has seen as many stylistic changes (genre, instrumentation, vocal register; just compare "Blue and Wonder" off Bloomed to anything off his exceptional new album Our Blood) as his physical appearance, and the once wholesome-looking singer/songwriter appeared something of a Frankenstein Saturday night, with the disheveled posture of Jay Reatard and the wiry, long hair of Neil Young.

For fans, this evolving sound and image is part of the appeal. "That's why I like him," said Eric, Silver Platters employee and my tablemate at the venue, "he's always changing." There was, in fact, something instantly magnetic about Buckner's presence, further intensified by his minimalist, two-piece setup that included Jeff Kazor on keys, maracas, and harmonium and the artist himself manning an effects board and a hollow-body electric (Epiphone?) guitar.

The hour-and-a-half set was a cross-cut of his back pages, with new material segueing seamlessly into older songs like "A Gauzy Dress in the Sun," "Before," and "Loaded at the Wrong Door." For such a compact setup, Kazor's accompaniment next to Buckner's guitar effects, looping, and distortion made great use of the venue's acoustics and allowed the singer to be fully present and deeply expressive; at times you could see his eyes roll back in his head as he leaned into the mike. One of the pleasures of Buckner's sometimes-challenging music is this wild range of expression; from tender whispers to bellowing croons, there's a catch in his warbling, trailing voice that stirs strong emotions. New song "Witness," with Buckner's brooding, heavy-handed strumming and raw earnestness, was simply moving.

For all his unabashed intensity, Buckner might not have a following like that of the Wilco franchise (Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, etc), but the man damn sure doesn't come across as as needing to explain himself, or his music, to anyone. Over the course of the evening, the venue's capacity never appeared to max out at more than half-full, but Buckner and his fans seemed content just to be there for the ride.

Overheard at the show: On Wild Ginger's cuisine: "I had the scallops." --Richard Buckner.

Side note: Buckner was mistakenly connected with a murder case in upstate New York, which delayed the release of his latest album, Our Blood. As I exited the venue, I ran into the singer, who was smoking a cigarette, and told him how much I liked the new album. His response: "Thank you. I'm just glad it's out of my house."

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