Photo credit: Matt Teuten.
Instead of walking off stage with the rest of Silver Jews at the close of their sold-out show at the Middle East last Friday, David Berman — bearded, balding, long of limb, and dripping sweat in a dark suit and deep red shirt — hopped off stage right and into the crowd, shaking hands, saying thanks, giving a high five, a flimsy hug, thronged, pronto, with folks wanting to get close. In with the people like a candidate. It was a surprising gesture given that the Jews — who came to Cambridge in support of their sixth album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City) — have toured but twice in their 19 years.
Watching Berman on stage, you couldn’t be sure. Is he into it? Does he like this? He paced like an antsy crane as he declaimed in his half-sung, half-spoke baritone, sinister like Leonard Cohen, but a little more bemused. The songs from Lookout are cheerier than those from American Water and Tanglewood Numbers (insert requisite mention of Berman’s drug addiction and attempted suicide here), but the many words of “San Francisco B.C.” got lost on stage. Berman is both bard and balladeer, and the most successful songs — “Tennessee,” “Horseleg Swastikas,” “Random Rules” — highlighted his loping eloquence.
The Jews followed an energetic set from Hallelujah the Hills — loud and non-showy with six dudes on stage including a trumpeter, a cellist, and a thunderous drummer who pounds with such force he’s regularly launched off his stool. The downy faces of openers Who Shot Hollywood — 12- and 13-year-olds from Western Mass — emphasized the Jews’ comparative experience.
Whether or not stage life suits him, it’s clear Berman likes his wife. Cassie Berman — bassist, singer, older sister of Hallelujah the Hills bassist Joseph Marrett — wore a red dress with a slit that went up and up the front. Her smile was pure allure — and Berman stared at her in a way that’d make any girl blush. The kids in WSH closed their set with a song that ended with “I love you” repeated dozens of times. The Jews closed the show with “Punks in the Beerlight,” which ends by repeating, “I love you to the max.” Sardonic, sure, but jubilant, too.