Simply Richard: Versus frontman plays rare solo gig

New York — I won’t say that I’m old, but really–I have slowed down a bit. For one thing, I rarely go out mid-week anymore for a gig, let alone for a reading and music showcase. And on any given evening in the dead of winter, the call of my comfy, warm bed has grown more enticing than any night-time jaunt.

But about two weeks ago, word filtered through the grapevine (aka, Facebook) that Richard Baluyut was playing a rare solo set.

Yes, THE Richard Baluyut, frontman of longtime indie rock legend Versus.

So, on that frigid Wednesday of January 20, after dutifully copping an afternoon nap in my cubicle to keep me awake for the evening’s impending awesome, I headed out to the Cake Shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Unbeknownst to me until just the day before, a monthly showcase is held there known as the Mixer Reading & Music Series, co-curated by Melissa Febos and Rebecca Keith.

Baluyut’s set followed several literary readings by local writers, notably renowned poet and Sarah Lawrence College professor Jeffrey McDaniel. Most recently seen back in full band action with Versus, Baluyut recalled songs from his Whysall Lane days and mixed up old and new.

Stripped down to the simplest elements of voice and guitar, his set evoked a beauty and fragility so appropriately fitting for the intimate setting of the Mixer’s atmosphere. A particular favorite of mine is “Gone to Earth”, so named after the 1950s classic film with Jennifer Jones. “Pillows”, a love song from Baluyut’s former San Francisco band Whysall Lane, held me in a quiet, hypnotic sway.

At other moments, Baluyut’s music conveyed a hushed focus with his deliberate fingerwork on the guitar that seemed to reverberate more intensely in its aloneness than I have felt standing right in front of Versus. To say that the solo experience was awesome is an understatement. But yes, indeed. It was Awesome.

The full set consisted of fan favorites “Not a Fool” and “Pilows” (both Whysall Lane) and “Gone to Earth” (Versus, from their upcoming album on Merge Records), “Radar Follows You” (Versus, Two Cents Plus Tax), and “Frog” (Versus, K Records 7″).

Though we can’t predict whether Baluyut will play more of these intimate-setting gigs he did remark to me in passing that the Cake Shop was a particular favorite of his, and that he loved that place. We can only hope this is a definite…maybe…that he will return. What a rare treat, indeed.

Earlier this month, Versus was featured in an interview with Dan Harris for ABC News Now’s Amplified series. To watch the interview go to the ABC News website.

Versus is currently working on a new album, expected to launch under Merge Records this year. Please visit their myspace for some previews of new songs.

Review by Feliza Mirasol
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