A rare sighting of a Silver Jew
by Jeremy Ohmes
It’s taken a while for the Silver Jews to circumcise the surname That Pavement Side Project. Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich have moonlighted sporadically with the Silver Jews since the band began in 1989, and the Jews have released six albums with the Pavement boys playing on three of them. But even when Malkmus and company would step down from their slacker indie-rock thrones and shamble on down to Nashville to record silly country songs, the Silver Jews (which, by the way, is slang for blonde-haired Jewish people) was still David Berman’s heart and soul, and Pavement played nothing more than second fiddle.
As the Silver Jews’ chief singer/songwriter, Berman is considered by hordes of shaggy-haired fans to be one of the goofiest (and most quotable) raconteurs of his generation. His music is fairly straightforward bar band country rock, alternating between lonesome ballads and sugary country-pop boogies with a pinch of dissonant jangle and sorrow thrown in for good measure. But his sly sense of humor, kooky couplets and wry observations are the most important ingredients in the Silver Jews’ songcraft and their latest album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, is one of Berman’s quirkiest concoctions yet.
In his rickety baritone, which sounds like a cross between Johnny Cash and Will Oldham, the Shel Silverstein of country-rock rumbles out lines like: “Since her dad, a local barber, had been beaten to death / She had become a vocal martyr in the vegan press … We had sarcastic hair, we used lewd pseudonyms / We got a lot of stares on the street back then.” Or how about this nugget from “Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer,” a shuffling song about star-crossed lovers: “Brick Butterfly had a history of sleeping with kitchen staff / She was a hardcore gobbler and a longtime guzzler of hydrogenated crap.” And even when Berman shows his sensitive side on “Suffering Jukebox,” a sympathetic love song about all the neglected jukeboxes in all the honky-tonks all across the country, the lyrics are still rife with amazing images: “Well I guess all that mad misery must make it seem true to you / But money lights your world up, you’re trapped, what can you do? / You got Tennessee tendencies and chemical dependencies / You make the same old jokes and malaprops on cue.”
For a man with so many great lines, it’s taken the tour-phobic Berman a long time to try them out live. He just started touring for the first time two years ago, and when asked why he waited so long, he responded with another great line: “I was unwilling to take the leap of faith it required until just recently when I stopped being a pussy about everything.”
Silver Jews, Monotonix. 8:30 pm, Monday, Sept. 29. WOW Hall • $12 adv. $15 door