Richard Morgan, dressed in slacks and a button-down, sound-checks his banjo with a few bars of The Beverly Hillbillies theme song. Jeannette Muniz, sitting cross-legged in a church dress and heels, tunes her acoustic guitar and invites the audience to move closer to the stage with “Come on up and be our friends.” Most of the crowd, maybe because they’re drinking alcohol instead of gourmet coffee, stays put. Nothing about the duo’s stage presence or music inspires much movement beyond crinkling your face into an expression of polite consideration or, maybe, once they really get cooking, discreetly tapping your foot in time.
Show opener “Cheap Confections,” one of just two originals on the set list tonight, has Muniz strumming gentle campfire chord changes while Morgan plucks a clear, complementary banjo riff more Sufjan Stevens than Flatt & Scruggs. I couldn’t shake the feeling I’ve heard this melody somewhere else before, but I also couldn’t get it out of my head for the rest of the weekend.
Friday, Jul 31
2718 N. St. Mary's
“He is just a friend/ that I see now and then,” Muniz sings, “my soul belongs to you and only/ She was just a tryst/ that I almost missed/ Now she’s wed and feeling lonely.” The melody continues, varying only slightly. “It’s you/ that makes me feel the way I want to,” Muniz concludes in a pretty masterful exploitation of one of pop music’s most lasting conventions: A sugar-voiced young girl singing her undying devotion to a second-person subject. The simplicity of the music coupled with Muniz’s sincerity is charming; it’s not a stretch to picture this song as the Ellen Page and Michael Cera duet closing Juno 2.
The other non-cover takes the opposite tact, accusing “you” of ruining a perfectly good friendship with kisses and betrayal until you’re just “Another Sad Song” for Muniz to belt out at shows. And belt she does, at least for a measure or two. The accusatory tone she takes to proclaim “You got what you wanted” could nearly be described as a bluesy growl, definitely the most impassioned moment of the set.
Morgan takes the mic for a few traditionals. “My dad was a folk singer,” Morgan explains, “and I always wanted to grow up to be just like him — and now I am.” He’s not kidding either: His versions of “High Germany” and “Whiskey in the Jar” (probably best known now as a Metallica song) can’t differ too greatly from the way his great-grandpa would’ve sung them. If these guys aren’t playing regularly at some pseudo-Irish River Walk pub, there’s been a huge mistake.
Speaking of faithful covers, Muniz’s interpretation of “After Hours” is so close to the Velvet Underground orginal, I was startled when she didn’t say “once more” before the final refrain. The big difference here, though, is what came before. On VU’s self-titled album, drummer Mo Tucker’s sweet, sad plea is a welcome return to recognizable human emotion after the schizophrenic, possibly failed experiment “Murder Mystery.” Tonight, though, it’s just a reminder that Jeannette & Richard need to write some more songs.