Vic Ruggiero – Brixton Academy, London

By paul

Vic Ruggiero
Monday 3 November, 2008
The Windmill, Brixton
Support: J.D. Smith + The Mighty Cougar + Mike Scott

Once upon a time it may have been fun to laugh at the one-man-band. He’d stand in your local high street like some hapless debutant faltering through any number of inane ditties, on occasion maybe even throwing in a juggling act. Well, tear up that dusty preconception because in Vic Ruggiero the one-man-band just got flooded with New York cool.

Tonight’s undercard demonstrates how variant the acoustic scene can be. Former Phinius Gage man Mike Scott opens with a collection of heart-felt, cut-to-the-bone, scathing punk observations. The Croydon native‘s been described as miserable, but that’s where he stands out. It’s not all fairy-tale guitar strings. There’s an attitude that’s been missing from a lot of punk bands lately, and the bleakness offered is a perfect fit for the dreary Monday evening outside. Fantastically direct stuff.

Strip away the obscenity, the random poetic digressions and the kids TV presenter gone bad aesthetic and there’s actually something endearing about The Mighty Cougar. The problem is that’s an awful lot of distraction to shred. Still, the potty-mouthed Wonk Unit frontman seems to endear himself to a portion of the crowd with a comedy/musical act that’s not nearly as bad as the opening song suggests.

J.D. Smith brings a little of the Deep South to South London tonight. It’s bluegrass by way of country. It’s straight-up blues indulging in a brief affair with punk. Undoubtedly talented and enjoyable to watch, there’s not a whole lot of audience interaction but this works in Smith’s favour, allowing the twangs of his guitar to do the talking.

Adorned in white vest, flat cap and a mighty set of mutton chops, Vic Ruggiero is four parts cool to one part eccentric. That’s not a bad way to describe his set tonight. Managing a kick drum, hi-hat, tambourine, harmonica and guitar, the New Yorker looks a tad buried on a bar stool, but it’s all part of a very well honed, effortless act.

It’s so effortless Ruggiero is happy to jaunt through minus setlist, throwing the floor open to requests. The result is a mixture of his solo work, with a fondness for latest album Something In My Blindspot, and a bevy of Slackers songs that at times verge on the obscure. I’m told it’s a completely varied set from that of Bristol last night. Not bad for a man that does this as a rare aside.

The Windmill’s low-key setting creates a sense of event: it’s more ‘An Evening With?’ than it is a regular gig. Ruggiero is an inimitable story-teller, that NY inflection tickling every corner of the room. He naturally saunters from between-song talk of The Sopranos and heartbreaking girls into a concoction of smooth ska/jazz. For every moment of the expected Slacker flavour there’s a moment more reminiscent of the likes of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. It’s all mixed with some raucous unclassifiable anomalies that suggest there’s a lot of fun to be had, for performer and audience. Varied and most definitely impressive.

As Vic heads off to Europe to meet up with the rest of the Church of Slack it’s a nice feeling to know that this particular corner of Brixton has been pleasantly treated to something a little out of the ordinary this evening.