To the small crowd in the Lizard Lounge basement, a pale Megan Hickey acknowledges that she’s dressed like Johnny Cash.
MODERN LOVE: Megan Hickey and her lap-steel guitar.
In all black, Hickey, of the Last Town Chorus, looks like a ghost of a girl hiding behind broken red hair, which falls in straight lines down her face. What the singer-songwriter and lap-steel guitarist is hiding from is as tenebrous as the dark red room she’s performing in. “This song is about the Oregon trail and internet romance, among other things,” she whispers. And later: “This song is about dead people, electricity, and exes,” she giggles. And, suddenly — though “coastal flooding,” “crying,” “obsession,” “bakeries,” “dogs,” “telephones,” and “you” might be what scares her — Hickey plays for us bravely and loudly, distorting the her steel guitar’s cries so that all of our seats shudder.
There is, however, a sameness to Hickey’s big, milky-way sound. Songs from Chorus’s self-titled debut are like songs from their most recent album, Wire Waltz (2007). Lucky for Hickey — Chorus’s only consistent member — her opera is an intoxicating one; she carries covers by David Bowie and Lee Ann Womack alike. Her breathy version of Bowie’s “Modern Love” is the centerpiece of the short set. Of the song’s fame on Grey’s Anatomy, she jokes, “I have arrived.” But it’s no wonder producers picked Hickey’s version of “Modern Love” as a soundtrack to aneurysms, scrabble, and heart attacks. Hickey’s wandering style suits that sort of mood.
Like her lyrics, Hickey is beautiful and crooked above her lap-guitar. She gives us a hint of breast, a hint of green eyes, a hint of mischief. Fresh off gigs at Borders and WERS she says more than once, “Long day, folks, six a.m., Cromwell, CT.” Hickey apologizes for her tired voice — but she needn’t have. It was, like she told us, “a school night” — but even on a boring Wednesday, Last Town Chorus’s unusual, grown-up voice was able to enchant at least a few.