Gentleman Jesse & His Men, a four-piece outfit led by Atlantan singer/guitarist Jesse Smith, hopped onstage around 9:30 and strummed and stomped their way into “Highland Crawler,” the opener off the band’s 2008 debut Introducing Gentleman Jesse. The song’s jangling guitars and hook-filled choruses recall some of the more poppy moments of Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello as well as the straightforward punk sound Smith learned while picking bass with the Carbonas.
The band played the heart of its recent record, including the catchy and addictive “All I Need Tonight (Is You)” and “Black Hole,” but the night’s standout was the cover of Vermont-based King Tuff’s “Connection.” Smith inflected a deeper tone and a well-timed stutter for its chorus: “I’ve got the telephone in my eyes, / I got your number memorized, / Co-Co-Co-Co-Connection.” Check out the original here.
At 10:30, fellow Atlantans the Black Lips arrived on stage with their usual set of goofy grins and dived into a set that included fan favorites “Cold Hands,” “Veni Vidi Vici,” and “O Katrina!” The show was surprisingly sober for a band whose performance résumé includes passing body fluids and other onstage antics. Sure, there was crowd surfing, bassist Jared Swilley climbed around the rafters like a monkey, and guitarist Ian Saint Pé’s gold teeth sparkled under the spotlight, but the Lips kept the near-capacity audience’s attention focused on the music. It was probably the right choice, considering the band’s recent run-in with the law in India.
Even those in the audience who were there just for the circus had a hard time ignoring the band’s tireless enthusiasm during eclectic doo-wop numbers and twangy guitar solos reminiscent of the early Rolling Stones. There was even some dancing during the spot-on delivery of “Bad Kids,” the band’s country-tinged, anthemic sing-along. The Lips kept the show on the short side, but coupled with Gentleman Jesse, it was a solid place to spend two hours on a Thursday night.