The band members, who recently came off a stint supporting Drive-By Truckers, looked uniformly haggard and rumpled from too much time crammed in the van. It wouldn't have been surprising if Centro-matic plugged in, did an obligatory hour or so and made its way down the road to the next town on the schedule. But as soon as the band began to play, the rigors of the road and the musician's life fell away, and the folks who made it out that night got a fine, full-on rock show.
The band leaned heavily on songs from its new release, Candidate Waltz, and the live treatment did them a world of good. Songs like "Estimate X 3" and "Against the Line," which have a tense restraint on record, really opened up when performed in front of an audience. Singer and guitarist Will Johnson's voice between songs was no more than a raspy whisper at best, and more than once he seemed to lose his train of thought as he talked to the audience, but once the music began his focus sharpened and he dug into the songs with a passion. The band cut a wide swath through its catalog during the set. Highlights included a fierce version of "Calling Thermatico," complete with staccato handclaps from the audience, and a stripped down take on "I See Through You," both from the Fort Recovery record.
For the encore, Johnson took the stage alone for a stark rendition of "All The Lightning Rods," and then the rest of the band joined him for a rousing "Am I The Manager or Am I Not?" before the house lights came up.
Fellow Texan Sarah Jaffe opened the show with a set that showcased her keening vocals and sharp lyrics. Her voice was reminiscent of Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries, or maybe Johnette Napolitano with a little less lung power, and the band was tight, though they tended to switch instruments quite a bit during the 30-minute set (Jaffe alone did turns on guitar, bass and drums) to little noticeable effect. While she seemed more than a little nervous when she spoke between songs, Jaffe came alive when she could let the music do the talking. Her duet with Johnson on "Nurture It" from her latest, Suburban Nature, was a perfect example.