Kevin Devine is an extremely politically minded American, but he doesn’t need you to know that. His lyrics are filled with fodder for liberal campaign slogans, but his personality and on-stage demeanor are universal and all- inclusive. Perhaps because he doesn’t want anyone to feel cast out or perhaps because he knows his role as a musician, Devine rarely indulges in the kind of politically charged monologues prevalent among some of his ineptly self-righteous peers.
But with Occupy Boston in full swing only a few blocks away from his Thursday night show at Royale, Devine couldn’t resist taking a few minutes out of his flawless set to preach to the choir. In fact, he played an acoustic set at Dewey Square earlier that afternoon. Still, he left most of the public speaking to a few passionate, well-received public speakers from the movement before he took the stage to echo their sentiments in song.
That’s not to say Devine was silent between songs, or even during them. Like a less abrasive, infinitely more humble Dylan, Devine lets his masterful lyrics speak for him. He opened with “No Time Flat,” a gentle pop tune with thoughtfully aggressive undertones. The band kept the temperate beat and the crowd’s attention without detracting from Devine’s timely lyrics: “I’m not sure why I vote/‘Cause I just don’t know what difference it makes/It seems to me we get the same [lies] from them both/Reforms don’t work, I think it’s time we tried to revolt.”
Most of Devine’s banter was lighter than his lyrics, rife with jokes at the playful expense of a drunken fan near the front of the stage that requested “Cotton Crush,” one of Devine’s most popular songs, after the band had already played it. From that point forward, he introduced nearly every song as “Cotton Crush” and proceeded to play some of his other (relative) hits: fan favorite “Just Stay,” Brother’s Blood standout “Time to Burn,” and an inimitably stunning solo take on “Brooklyn Boy,” the opening track on 2006’s Put Your Ghosts To Rest, to which Devine owes much of his modest but substantial success.
But the language-savvy activist in Devine couldn’t keep quiet all night. Eager to harness the momentum of the Occupy movement but careful not to sandbag the rock concert experience, he navigated his words deftly to avoid alienating the casual, non-partisan rock ‘n roll fan. “We’re not an expressly political band, but we do believe in decency and equity,” he said. “But I think those are apolitical things. Those are just human things.”
Devine and his band went on to play an old song from his 2005 offering, Make The Clocks Move, that he announced “feels very current right now.” As the crowd sang along -- “My neighborhood drunk’s on line at the deli/With his shaky hands and his swollen face, he waits for his coffee/He blacks out curbside every night/And every day crawls back toward Wall Street” -- they let him know they agreed.
Nearly buried by the buzz (get it?) of Occupy was the new album Devine originally embarked on tour to support. He played only about a half-dozen songs from Between the Concrete and the Clouds, among them the secular anthem of a title track and the time-halting “11-17.” The latter helped distinguish the concert from the protest down the street by reminding the fans why they bought their tickets: to be emotionally moved and, though the modest Devine would certainly deny it, philosophically probed by something created by a like-minded artist.
After the main set ended, Devine and his band took back the stage to play perhaps their greatest accomplishment, “Brother’s Blood,” and the courageously introspective “Ballgame.” Throughout the night, the Brooklyn boy praised the Boston crowd with all the sincerity of his music and playfulness of his on-stage repartee. “Thank you guys for always treating us like we’re home,” he said. “And it could be worse -- you could be a Mets fan.”
It’s clear that Devine believes passionately in what his lyrics advocate, but he knows that a rock concert is the wrong venue for a sermon. It’s probably fair to say he resurrected a few forgotten numbers for the sole purpose of adding his Elliot Smith-like tenor to the millions of voices that are driving the Occupy movement across the country. However, Devine is self-aware enough to recognize the real genius of his songwriting: his pensive and unabashed honesty. That’s what makes it almost impossible not to sympathize with his political plight -- even for the most apolitical of rock ‘n roll fans.
About Mike -- I am a journalism student at Emerson College getting ready to graduate in December. I've done investigative work for the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and covered beats in Bridgewater and Dorchester, but my passion is music. When I'm not blurring the line between obsession and enjoyment while listening to Pavement or Bruce Springsteen, I'm punching walls over the Celtics. Twitter: @mikeflanagan2.
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