Sean Nicholas Savage Comfort Zone, Toronto ON, June 13

Sean Nicholas Savage Comfort Zone, Toronto ON, June 13
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Montreal's most mysterious and cultish singer-songwriter, Sean Nicholas Savage trades in mortal angst. Nothing if not emotionally naked, he marked his Comfort Zone entrance by actually removing his shirt (admittedly it's quite hot) and dancing silently in a sort of formal '50s style, coming off like the grisly entertainer on a retirees' cruise liner. In this light, new album Other Life's frequent masturbatory allusions took a deliciously seedy angle, Savage's face stretching and contorting into an absurd conflation of young Steve Buscemi and Klaus Kinski's Woyzeck. Like the man's uber-earnest songs, his mannerisms are such that you never know quite how much to salt them. "This is a new song, it means a lot to me," he deadpanned, and opened the set with a scraggly ballad, before laying down his electric guitar and brandishing a maybe second-gen iPod Nano. Until an arresting electric guitar rendition of Flamingo's 'Come Back to Me', it was his only musical backing. The result was a technically flawed but emotionally formidable performance: the unfeasible self-confidence, the messianic posture, the ribcage-shuddering vocals, peaking with the long-sustained roars of "She Looks Just Like You." You feel the lyrics are less vocalized than brutally exhumed from some terrible interior dwelling of evil and sorrow. Indeed, though Savage's music occasionally encounters "beautiful days," they're always distantly remembered, never present. He's a man so bent on ruing past misfortunes you wonder whether he's getting out enough to make new ones.

Of this the crowd seem unconcerned. It's a riot of rabid hollering and yelling. "You can't imagine what I'm feeling right now," Savages gushes. He means it in a positive sense, but honestly? You probably wouldn't want to. That's the beauty of it — though potentially alienating, seeing Savage perform teaches you how to listen to his music. He's no doubt a genuine eccentric, but so audaciously lucid with it you kind of have to get on board. Savage is not, as some have claimed, a genius — not even close — but something just as impressive; a near-iconic fringe artist whose philosophy of shameless joy in total self-expression is religiously seductive. Anyone brave enough to follow his lead is in for a hell of a ride.