McPherson was in peak form, sliding effortlessly from shredding growl to velvet croon, and making his banana-yellow Fender guitar juke, jive, and duckwalk with period-channeling vibe and precision. Backed by a crack four-piece - burlesque-house sax, hellfire piano, slamming drums, and de rigueur upright bass - McPherson & Co. mixed flawless renditions of Signs' choice cuts ("North Side Gal," "Fire Bug") with surprisingly eclectic covers (Don & Dewey's "Farmer John," Joe Barry's "I'm a Fool to Care"). It was hands-down the feel-good show of the year. Rest assured the past is in good hands.
Equally thrilling was the show-opening set of spectral Americana by hand-picked tourmate Sean Rowe. Bearded, burly, and wrapped in well-worn flannel, Rowe resembles a distant relative of Bigfoot. With a dulcet baritone perched between the subwoofer-shaking pipes of Mark Lanegan and Leonard Cohen, he commands the the kind of gravitas associated with fiery-eyed Old Testament prophets or mud-caked Delta bluesmen. When he opened his mouth to sing, the din of clinking glasses and idle chatter and, for that matter, time itself, stopped dead.
He was backed by a fleet-fingered upright bassist, a keyboardist/backing singer who looks like the Go-Go's Jane Wiedlin circa "Our Lips are Sealed," and a guitar player who sounded like Robert Quine jamming with Jefferson Airplane. Rowe's original material was mesmerizing, especially the spooky "Old Black Dodge" and the gravity-defying "Flying."
But it was a pair of indelibly rendered covers that brought down the house. The first was an endorphin-triggering stroll through "Bird on a Wire" by Leonard Cohen, an acknowledged influence. The second was "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" by Richard Thompson, arguably one of the greatest guitarists ever to wield a six-string - so you cover him at your peril. Rowe transmuted the original's Brit-folk finger-style picking into an ecstatic, careering raga that hushed the room into stunned silence and then thunderous applause.
Jonathan Valania is editor-in-chief of Phawker.com.