On the heels of nü-country rocker Ryan Adams and O Brother, Where Art Thou?’s old-country revival comes a singer-songwriter with enough poppy hooks and punk-rock sensibility to take alt-country to the next level. Paul Brill, formerly of the much-sought-after and now disbanded Envelope, is one step away from his “big night.” Solo stardom is the goal; a repertoire of earnest, accessible songs is the way. “They’ve pushed us back a bit,” Brill told us. Bad sign. Nonetheless, nearly every seat in the room was filled by the time Brill and his band took the stage for “Dodging Bullets,” a new track considerably more aggressive than anything on his latest album, the independently released Halve the Light. Brill’s voice, second only to his richly pieced lyrics, is even more captivating live. With his microphone positioned a few inches above his mouth, Brill craned his head skyward. In all likelihood, the singer was straining for the high notes, but it seemed more like he was reaching for heaven. A psychedelic exchange of falsetto and cello ensued. Following “Start It Again,” a standout cut from Halve the Light and a clear crowd-pleaser, Brill reacted coyly to an eruption of cheers: “Yes, I’ve been working out.” Which may explain the sheer muscle behind the climactic “Dry Ice” (of which there was none on this particular evening) and the obliquely Buddhist “Begin at the End” (in which he gallantly proclaimed: “Happiness begins when all desire ends”). Songs like the pedal steel-imbued “Maybelline” are pure folk-country, yet Brill successfully dodges labels with the Steve Miller-esque “Skylight” and “Macon,” a tune that packs a Beatles-esque pop wallop. The night’s sole sour note came in the form of an off-kilter rendition of the new tune “Bottom of the Ocean.” Ironically, Brill and Co.’s artistic integrity became even clearer when they stepped off the stage and main act the Drakes displayed the wonders of bouncing bosoms.
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