It seemed to take a while for the audience to warm up to Andy Zipf on Wednesday backstage at the Black Cat, but they proved to be a sated and excited group of Zipf friends, old fans and new fans.
The crowd was one of those hang-back-away-from-the-stage groups, with no one moving up close -- a 180 from the previous night's Aquarium show. They watched politely as Zipf and his rhythm section, who were opening a tour that would take them to Wisconsin next, rocked along through two songs and into a third, and when Zipf raised his hands for the crowd to join him in a chorus of "awwws," it seemed the tactic might fall flat. But it didn't. The crowd was a step slow to join in, but they did, and then they were involved for the rest of the set, a gradual-but-complete reversal. The tactic worked.
"Lie To Yourself" followed with an obvious theme -- "Lie to yourself./Don't lie to me." -- but Zipf sings with such sincerity and earnestness, he pulls the message off. The song had a Chris Isaak-quality to it -- that middle of the night, lonely desert road groove -- and like most songs in Zipf's set, it built up to a rock out.
Supported by a behemoth of a drummer and a bassist playing a behemoth of an eight-string, Zipf was backed by a full, heavy sound and let him stretch out his guitar and play searing solos and distorted fills.
"I don't usually get to play with a band," he said, then paused before, "I freak out."
And the freak-outs are great. Zipf's an admirable songwriter, but he's best with a band behind him, adding power to his words.
Still, his slightly effeminate vocals and that earnestness make him a bit heartthroby -- the room was filled with cute girls, heads tilted slightly to the left, smiling softly and smiling with their eyes. At times, he was just a cup of mozzarella and some bad acting chops away from being the second coming of Rick Springfield.
Zipf got back to rocking to close the set, and ended with a gimmicky clap-along, but again, his sincerity helped him pull it off. He tossed his guitar aside and marched out into the crowd, clapping all the way, and getting almost everyone in the room to join in.
He exited abruptly, giving a hard shove to the stage door and quickly disappearing -- a rock star act that smelled of arrogance -- but he would soon return, alone, for an encore. Strapping the electric back on, he played another love song. Shortly into it, he pulled back from the mic and sang to the room. Then, by stepping down off the stage and into that void offered by the hang-in-the-back audience, he demonstrated how stage-ready he is. It definitely looked like the crowd was filled with friends, which probably provided him with the comfort level to do that, but nevertheless, it was a bold move because of the heart-on-his-sleeve nature of the song.
The rest of the band joined Zipf for one last song. To one request, Zipf replied, "We already played that one, which means either you're not paying attention or you missed the first song." The band then strolled into another of those lonely midnight highway songs. It was what you would expect from a song called "Going Down" -- and many a song has been so titled. It was haunting blues rock with a good dose of foot-stomp, which is what Zipf does best.