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all words: Andy Hess

With Franz Nicolay the banter is just as important as the music. The stories between his songs seem as much a part of the music as the notes that make it up on his new record Luck And Courage.

Nicolay, a consummate professional, entertained the crowd with tales from The Fest and how it’s tough being the opening act (they were on the last night of their tour with British folk band Stornoway). Even with all the chatter, Nicolay and his band delivered an inspired performance.

The Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist, known for his keyboard playing in The Hold Steady and Against Me!, has been to the District three times in the past two years but only as a one-man cabaret/folk act. On this visit, he brought a solid backing band that fleshed out the songs from Courage and his last record Major General.

Kicking off the evening with “the saddest song we know” in “The Ballad of Watchmen’s Hollis Wadsworth Mason Jr.”, Nicolay and his band plucked and shuffled their way through the 45-minutes set. Sticking to the material from Luck And Courage, the brighter spots from Major General, and even a new number called “Frankie Stubbs’ Tears” which was the by far the song of the night.

Nicolay, switching from banjo to guitar to accordion, left the more rollicking numbers at home and stuck to his brand of folk-punk Sunday night. Sipping from his glass of red wine, Nicolay tore through the one, two, three punch of “Have Mercy”, “This Is Not A Pipe” and “Rock, Rinse, Repeat” (a song that may or may not be about him leaving The Hold Steady).

While it was a night with few mistakes, the duet on “Z For Zachariah” started out pretty rough before finding its footing in the second half of the song. And while it would have been nice to hear “Quiet Where I Lie” or “Confessions Of An Ineffective Casanova”, Nicolay’s showmanship made up for those losses.

There was no tap-dancing at this show, but Nicolay’s diverse sounds and raw talent will keep me coming back for more.

Setlist:
The Ballad Of Watchmen’s Hollis Mason Wadsworth Jr./Dead Sailors/Have Mercy/This Is Not A Pipe/Rock, Rinse, Repeat/Z For Zachariah/Luck & Courage/Felix & Adelita/Frankie Stubbs’ Tears (New Song)/Jeff Penalty

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