Chicago’s Empty Bottle is classic. It could be a stand-in for Liverpool’s famous Cavern. Posters are slathered on the black-as-tar walls with traces of yesterday’s Elmer’s Glue. A pool table sits burrowed in an ante-room and some archaic, original brick walls add to the sweltering blend of textures. The solitary disco ball looks like it should be in an illustration of “Where’s Waldo?”
Paul Marshall was supposed to play the 10 PM slot, but the Kissaway Trail had logistical issues, got stranded in Atlanta, and didn’t show, which meant that this singer-songwriter, now known as “Lone Wolf”, had to be reshuffled to the 11 PM slot. Three years ago, before this recent image change, Marshall had recorded Vultures which stood as an austere and unplugged debut which did not contain the ache and exhausting tribulations that his new album The Devil and I boasts.
About 18 months ago, Bella Union’s Simon Raymonde (former member of Cocteau Twins) tried to convince the man to create a new work, but Marshall had to find himself first. He ultimately ended up in Sweden recording with Kristofer Jonson (Jeniferever). Embarking on this new project, Lone Wolf played every instrument himself, except for drums, trumpets and strings. The cover shows muscled gladiators toe-to-toe in aggressive stances which sets up the clawing tensions that simmer beneath.
Lone Wolf is…dark. Besides having dark hair and dark eyes, he writes dark lyrics and strums dark chords. His influences include other somber types; Nick Drake, for one. Paul Simon? Okay, I don’t quite see that connection. Whatever. When he shows up on stage, he asks us to forgive him if he’s kind of shaky. It seems a little strange to see just the guy and his guitar. The stragglers are looking above him and seeing the full-band set-up. But, that’s going to wait until The Wild Beasts come on.
Lone Wolf tells us that he’s come all the way from the UK and invites us to come closer to the stage. His shirt, not surprisingly, is dark black. His finger-picking is gorgeous and a few girls in floral attire and halter tops amble towards the stage. A voice that is operatic, but not stilted, and sonorous, but not undisciplined, trails over their heads. He plays a pleasant folk-infested drone which belies the caustic lyrics.
He is singing his new single, “15” which is essentially a murder ballad. “A long, long time ago / We never danced or lost friends.” It begins innocently enough. But, when he explains that “The moon is on his back tonight,” the bleak theme prevails. So, when a woman murders a man because his name has 15 letters, is that such a big deal, dude?
From time to time, Lone Wolf confides in the hazy collection of faces. He thinks we should tell him if a song is not worth it, or if his strums should be more subdued. But, though this Leeds-based troubadour is quite diplomatic in his chatter, when he sings about using each other’s blood until we pass out, an eerie sense of Jekyl and Hyde persists.
After a few of these folk-vamps, Lone Wolf heads towards the keys. Playing “This Is War” involves several brisk tempo changes mid-song and, between each segue, there’s a strong impulse that we are hearing horse’s hooves stampeding across a rocky field. His classic line, “I slaughtered her a cow and I’m a vegetarian” is a humble reminder of how we are all capable of blindly stretching ourselves beyond our sedentary comfort zones after experiencing great passion.
Lone Wolf seamlessly switches from chest to head voice and his phrases sound remarkably like that of Tori Amos. His voice steadfastly hangs on to key syllables, and then he hang-glides off them. It’s really, sonically, the best of both worlds: a pleasing tenor with a sensitivity usually touched on by the feminine muse. He purses his lips in agonizing loneliness and pits together conflicting emotions that can never be resolved nor picked completely clean.
“Keep Your Eyes on the Road” is the Wolf’s new single and the video produced by Ashley Dean makes it a sensory circus. But, solo, this means that the man works his guitar like a mechanic hunched under the hood of a Honda before a holiday weekend. The rolling and tumbling progression rivets across the neck as the Wolfman moans, “Get me out of here.”
Several bold ladies in the room have been moving more closely, little by little, towards the stage, and by the end of the set, the simmering, almost explosive minstrel is surrounded. Lone Wolf is spent. It’s been a long, long day and a dark, dark night. Almost apologetically, he leaves amidst gracious applause, back into the steamy darkness of a somber night.