The Schramms – Cicero’s (St. Louis, MO)
Halfway through their spirited performance in Cicero’s intimate lower quarters, The Schramms’ chief scribe/singer/guitarist and namesake, Dave Schramm, asked if he was mumbling too much. Before anyone in the small but enthusiastic crowd could reply, Schramm followed with a smirky, “Well, I ain’t got nothin’ to say anyway.”
Schramm could be excused for being cranky. After all, his band comes from that ‘perfect world’ where smart, literate bands are recognized by the masses; yet here they were tonight, playing again to just a handful of the converted.
But if that’s what gave tonight’s performance an extra edge, so be it. Usually, Schramm’s bittersweet lyrics of solitude and loss give way to the shimmering, pastoral arrangements by the band. Tonight, however, Schramm’s vocals, sometimes a weakness on record, matched the contempt of his best lyrics and the drawl of his fluid guitar work.
Drawing heavily from their newer material, the show kicked in after a shaky start with an aggressive version of “Little Apocalypse”, the title track from their latest release, with Schramm’s voice cracking at just the perfect moment (“…it’s in my tears”) throughout the refrain.
After a melancholy version of Lucinda Williams’ “Side of the Road” and a track co-written with Keith Jacobs, the rest of the evening’s material challenged the recorded versions, sounding darker and more resonant. Ron Metz’s solid drumming and Al Greller’s bass provided Schramm with a foundation for some ambitious and inspiring lead work, particularly in “A Woman’s Name”. And the sound of George Usher’s organ and vocal harmonies lifted “Her Darkness” into a different, sadder place than previous live versions.
The Schramms have always played around the fringes of various styles — they’re one of the only bands I know that successfully blends a classic country sound with the jangle of pop without quite sounding like either — but tonight they embraced their distinctive voice and mined it for something even deeper. Which, probably to Dave Schramm’s embarrassment, proves he’s got something to say after all.