Freakwater, the duo of Janet Bean (also of alternative rockers Eleventh Dream Day) and Catherine Irwin, reemerged this month after an eleven year long recording hiatus with Scheherazade, an album of twelve new songs that takes its place amongst the group’s best. As one of the founding bands of the alt-country movement with the release of their first, self-titled album in 1989, the duo has been highly influential over a whole generation of musicians, and it is an all-too-rare treat to get to see them perform live. Last week, they came to DC9 for a show that proved that over a decade out of the spotlight has done little to dull their edge.
The new album jumps right in, in typical Freakwater fashion, with a murder ballad, and it was this song, the oddly titled “What the People Want” (apparently, the people want to gut a woman and toss her down a well) with which they also opened the night. The intertwining vocals of Bean and Irwin alternated between harmonizing sweetly and clashing to build a tension that made the conflict in the lyrics almost palpable. Backed by longtime bass player Dave Gay, along with guitarist Morgan Greer, drummer Neal Argabright, and violinist Anna Krippenstaple, they played through a number of songs from the record, including lead single “The Asp and the Albatross,” “Skinny Knee Bone,” “Falls of Sleep,” and “Velveteen Matador.” Older favorites weren’t ignored, though, and included tracks such as “Hero/Heroine” from 1995’s Old Paint and “Cheap Watch” and “Cloak of Frogs” from 1999’s End Time.
The show was opened by Jaye Jayle, the alt-country alter ego of Young Widows frontman Evan Patterson, playing songs from his recently released second album under the name, House Crickets and Other Excuses to Get Out. Bean, Irwin, and Krippenstaple joined him for the final song of his set, and he returned the favor, joining them for a show-ending rendition of “When the Leaves Begin to Fall.”