My first exposure to T.C. Costello came in the early hours of a house show three years ago. Portly, bearded and armed with only his accordion, he stood in the living room and bellowed song after song, occasionally insisting that the audience join him in some of the more easily memorized refrains. His between-song banter and oddball lyrics (Sarah Palin was ironically lionized), combined with his utter fearlessness at playing in tight quarters for only 12 people, gave the performance a Vaudevillian bent, as if he were a carnival barker who might pull you out of your seat at any moment to join him in a little soft-shoe or sleight of hand. This sort of hubris can’t be easy to capture on tape, but Costello’s latest LP does just that without resorting to gimmickry or losing its sense of focus.
What: T.C. Costello
Where: Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Ale House, 900 Main St.
When: Friday, Feb. 28, 11 p.m.
With: The Post-Timey String Band
More info: 748-0540, huntergathererbrewery.com
Led by Costello’s frenzied accordion playing, Shortly Thereafter offers the kind of boisterous Roma-punk popularized by bands like Gogol Bordello and, to a lesser extent, Man Man. And while banjo, piano, and a veritable toybox of instruments are strewn throughout the album like confetti, the minimal percussion keeps it from fully realizing its energized potential.
In fact, a proper drum kit is so conspicuously absent that it can only be a deliberate decision, probably to keep as much attention as possible on Costello’s lyrics, which combine tongue-twisting verbosity with an almost literary attention to character and setting. Many of the tunes are steeped in black humor (“From Poverty to Hell”), others were born to be beer-swilling singalongs (“Liver Let Die Part II”), while some are legitimately sad (“Christmas at the Southern Belle”), but they all complement Costello’s idiosyncratic persona and make clear that he is, above anything else, an artful songwriter who just happens to favor an unorthodox instrument.
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