Delta Spirit is one of those bands whose albums only hint at the full-bore energy of their stark raving mad live performances. Playing before a sell-out crowd at the venerable Paradise Rock Club in Boston two weeks after the release of Delta Spirit, their third major-label album, the band barely took its foot off the gas over the course of a raucous 80-minute show.
Led by indefatigable front-man Matt Vasquez, the band played a 17-song set that was dominated by tracks from the new album and the group’s first record, 2007’s Ode to Sunshine. Only three songs from their well-regarded sophomore release, History from Below (2010), made the cut.
A word about Delta Spirit – the album has drawn somewhat mixed reviews, especially among long-time fans of the band, whose major concern seems to be that it sounds a little too mainstream and polished for their tastes. This of course is always the conundrum bands face when they move their sound significantly one way or the other; the fan base that was originally drawn to them is not always up for the same move. And Delta Spirit IS different – more akin to current Cold War Kids than the rootsy alt-country sound that defined the first two records. But by all accounts, this latest release is closer to the group’s vision of what they’ve been after all along (hence the eponymous title). Seeing the new songs incorporated into the band’s live act may help ease some of the consternation of loyal fans, because the eight tracks from Delta Spirit that they played at the Paradise stood shoulder to shoulder with the earlier tunes.
The band opened the set with a 1-2-3 punch of “Empty House,” “White Table,” and “Strange Vine” – one track from each of their three albums – to a wildly enthusiastic reaction from the tightly packed crowd of 900. “We’ve practiced a lot for you guys,” Vasquez said, before launching into “Tear It Up,” which he described as “a dance number…actually all our songs are dance numbers.” Other highlights included “Tellin’ the Mind,” a Delta Spirit track that features some nifty beatboxing in the album version, but was amped up into a straight ahead rave on stage, and “Bushwick Blues,” another all-out rocker off of History from Below.
Vasquez spent much of the night playing like a man possessed – of demons, perhaps? Many of the songs, performed live, seem like nothing so much as an exorcism. There is something primal about the way the singer embodies these songs. Vasquez dedicated a pair of tunes to two important women in his life: “House Built for Two” to his mom, and “Yamaha” to his wife. The band closed with a three-song encore that mirrored the start of the show, one track from each album: “Devil Knows You’re Dead,” “Money Says,” and “Trashcan.”