Remington gem Caleb Stine's country-folk at Trinacria Italian Cafe on Friday, Feb. 24, was full of moments that threatened to take one's breath away with their sincerity and craft, rousing a crowd into hoots, hollers, and claps over pizza and pasta.
With the help of a six-piece dubbed the Revelations (Nick Sjostrom, Burke Sampson, EJ Thompson, Ray Eicher, Tiffany DeFoe, and Jim Hannah), Stine, long hair pulled back looking like some quick, one-scene-and-he's-out character in a lost '70s movie, or the sapient bartender in a Peckinpah Western, casually commanded the Mount Vernon spot stuffed with people, many of whom were presumably not there for the show.
Still, Stine and the Revelations rocked and rollicked at an appropriate volume (conversations were still possible, basically) and made it so that say, the couple clearly on a date next to my drunk ass didn't seem to mind if my elbow nearly jabbed their lasagna. It sure does help that Stine's songs sound iconic, like you've heard them before even if you haven't heard them before.
And maybe it was Trump on the TV above the bar, CNN rerunning footage of the president howling white noise and honky nonsense straight from CPAC earlier that day as Stine performed, but a cover of Bob Marley's 'Three Little Birds,' with its "everything little thing, is gonna be all right" hook felt foundational. Plus, the Revelations twisted it into a Allman Brothers-esque, Muscle Shoals-ian carnival, with Tiffany Dafoe's saxophone moving it toward something that sounded like a mash-up of the Marley favorite and the Rolling Stones' 'Can You Hear Me Knocking.'
Here, a crowd-pleasing bar band move was both an offering and a reinvention. Stine understands what so many miss in Marley's music when they cart it back out for cheap applause: that its posivibes prevail in spite of the world-fuckers making it hard to feel like "everything little thing is gonna be all right," not because it actually is a chill bro escapist anthem.
And then there was a deep-fried, Western swing version of 'This Little Light Of Mine' that put some menace back into the gospel song and a jaunty, swallowed version of 'This Land Is Your Land', both sing-along songs that really, really meant it right there and then. Before I got there Stine also performed Woody Guthrie's 'Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).' A lighter highlight: His playful song 'Butter,' off his 2015 album, "Time I Let It Go," recorded with the Brakemen, bridged the odd gap between great live music that demands full attention and background music for a casual, carb-cramming dinner.
When Stine's last solo album, 2014's staggering "Maybe God Is Lonely Too," came out, I located his work as part of a group of "contemporary country affronts," which challenges tedious tastefulness and traditionalism, tweaking it until it's all new and dangerous again. He did that again on that Friday night, thanks in part to choice covers and a curious location for country music.
Stine and the Revelations ended the evening with a distinct, calloused cover of The Velvet Underground's 'Sweet Jane,' its iconic intro igniting cheers of recognition. The Revelations' version sounded loose yet dedicated, recalling those Velvet live recordings from the early '70s when the band realized that being a rock band was maybe actually harder than being an avant-garde one. For a moment, Trinacria morphed into Max's Kansas City.
As 'Sweet Jane's' sounds piled up, many in the audience seemingly stopped and held their breath, stoked. And when the song ended, they finally breathed, grabbed their beers, gulped them down real quick, and clapped like crazy. What an inexplicably great night of country, folk, and rock at an Italian eatery.