Published Dec 09, 2009The bar was bubbling with anticipation for A.A. Bondy's rare Montreal appearance, but simmered to a hush when he took the stage. The singer-songwriter began by playing a cover of Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" to a transfixed audience. Thankfully, he played alone, because you'd feel pretty sorry for anybody who might have to share a stage with him; Bondy could easily outshine just about anybody.
Bondy sang selections from both of his acclaimed solo albums, 2007's American Hearts and 2009's When the Devil's Loose, mixed with some covers for a generous hour and a half. In spite of his former work with grunge rock outfit Verbena, the covers and his originals both planted him firmly in the folk tradition. There was no grunge residue left from his early days, only a little grit.
Midway through his set, he asked the crowd if someone had an American Spirit cigarette. "Play 'Lover's Waltz' and I'll give you one," a man from the audience hollered, leading Bondy to quickly reply, "Fuck, I'll play that song right now." He picked up his guitar and introduced it as a song written about a girl who wasn't with him anymore, delighting many of the hens in the crowd.
All of his songs were punctuated by sporadic harmonica, a reference to a young Dylan who is an obvious influence on his songwriting. Even with his minimalist approach to music, Bondy could steal "My Funny Valentine" from Chet Baker, which he did later in his set.
Bondy has a voice like soot and the rakish presence of a grizzled, turn-of-the-century train hopper. His covers of seasoned folk songs lend him credence in a world of cheap indie imitators. He played his set the way his songs demand to be played: like he was standing before a crackling fire, not a microphone.