Live review: Syd Straw at McCabe's, April 11.


Syd Straw blames her manager for everything. The singer's manager is her new dog, Carol Burnett; lying on the stage, the dog takes responsibility without complaint or pay, which makes her more useful than most managers.

Blame assigned, Telecaster plugged in, knit cap stuck over lank hair, Straw strums into "My Ship Comes In," singing about the dreams her housewife narrator traded away as Rob Laufer complements on guitar and Heather Lockie makes her violin weep like a pedal steel. The song fades to a ghostly end that does not portend rollicking good times, but Straw comforts us with her conversation.

There's not much distinction between the mock resignation of Straw the talker and the optimistic desperation of Straw the singer. She always seems to be grinning through some disaster and figuring how to make art out of it, as on "Papier Maché," where she waltzes an invitation for us to make art out of her (if understanding her escapes us). "I can't tell you how REAL it is," she explains.

Straw introduces "Black Squirrel" as her "heavy-metal goth number," and Lockie (who sounds different on every tune) loads some distortion into its Jewish minor-key riff. The song's about color, we learn: "Does it really matter?" After making a few more not-quite-random comments -- she's usually making a point -- Straw looks down at the list of songs she's choosing from: "Three songs an hour?"

She goes on like that. "All Things Change." Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World." "Have a Little Faith in Me." Syd regular Cindy Lee Berryhill guesting on the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale." The Beatles' "Rocky Raccoon," from a "White Album" tribute Straw contributed to. "Maybe This Time," from the musical "Cabaret." And Syd's still checking the weather where her actor father is or is not. It feels spontaneous (a gift).

Straw does an extra-long set, with Dave Alvin eventually stepping up and a bassist and drummer sitting in, but I gotta leave cuz our teen is tired. Straw gets inside my head, though, as she always does. Even if I don't digest all of it, her seed keeps growing after. "I just want to be a musician," she whines like a child, almost crying. She's something more than that.

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Read somebody's more detailed review (with pitchers!) here.

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