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Live: Rocky Votolato @ SUNY Oswego

October 2, 2010

It’s hard not to think of kindred Northwest songcrafter Elliott Smith when Seattle’s Rocky Votolato starts his strumming.

Like the late, legendary Smith, Rocky’s oft-somber tunes are spare, but full of vivid description and gut-socking introspection. His melodies have a poppy sweetness that gave much of the Friday night audience in Oswego, N.Y., a thoughtful tilt and nod throughout the performance.

As a longtime listener, first-time witness, I expected Rocky to go through some variation of the standard sad-sack singer-songwriter routine: guy on a stool staring at the floor, possibly facing away from the audience, ripping through one brooding tune after another and then mysteriously disappearing stage left. In other words, a great show by sad-sack singer-songwriter standards.

A crappy cell phone pic from the 10-1-10 Votolato show.

I was pleased and only slightly surprised when Rocky bounced onto the Sheldon Ballroom stage at Oswego State, stool-less and full of outbursts like “yeah” and “alright” that he struggled to contain before each mid-song harmonica solo. I think I even heard a “let’s go” under his breath before the start of one harp progression.

Rocky steadied himself against the power of his own voice with a kind of inward-knee stance reminiscent of Elvis Costello. In other words, he rocked.

A couple hundred mostly Oswego students were treated to a handful of tunes off his most recent True Devotion and a majority of Makers, his quintessential 2006 Barsuk debut.

The humble Votolato entranced the crowd with tales from the road and songs from the heart for about 80 minutes. The balance of pin-drop silence and explosive applause appropriately complimented the intimate venue.

If I had to pick highlights, I’d go with the endearing “Tinfoil Hats” and forlorn “Portland Is Leaving” from Makers along with “Sparklers” from True Devotion. The title track from Suicide Medicine was greeted with some serious gusto from an enthusiastic band of requesters in the back. They also added some slightly awkward hand-clapping to “Streetlights,” but, hey, it was a lot of fun.

If you can’t get out to see Rocky V. on his U.S. tour this fall, this recently recorded Daytrotter Session is a small consolation.

— Shane M. Liebler

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2010 9:05 am

    Well said! Rocky seemed like a slightly shy yet friendly guy who can really belt it out and still give a nuanced performance. Picked up True Devotion, which I like, but would agree that Makers is the goods. A good time!

    • October 2, 2010 9:25 am

      Really glad you made it to the show, Tim. I think Makers is Rocky’s personal favorite too. He played pretty much the whole thing! Won’t be his last gem for sure.

  2. October 4, 2010 11:41 am

    Solid write-up sir. Wish I had made it.

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