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BEING THERE: Bad Books @ Union Transfer

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Photo by DAN LONG

Bad Books, the collaborative side project of singer-songwriter Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull, has been resurrected after a seven-year hiatus. Their second album, 2012’s II, by far the most popular of their repertoire, weaves fictional narratives that swerve from punchy alt-rock to sentimental folk tunes, each chorus more catchy than the last. Their latest album, III, is as minimal as the title suggests, a bare bones ensemble of acoustic guitars and keys. The lyrics are more solemn, the background noise muted to spotlight each singer’s distinct voice.

Onstage at Union Transfer last night, Andy Devine casually tossed his shock of blond hair, hands jammed into his pockets. “We literally quit the band on our way up to the stage, so you’re seeing the last show ever,” he joked by way of introduction. I’ve seen both Devine and Hull perform separately with their main projects, but there was a special intimacy to their chemistry together. They were completely comfortable, playfully riffing off of each other as if they were jamming alone in a basement. Devine does a rugged Kurt Cobain impression, sending the crowd into hysterical giggling. At another interval the duo launches into Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” melodramatic and half-mocking.

The duo opened with stripped down versions of old songs, including “Pytor,” which tells the story of Peter the Great. The Russian czar discovered his wife, Katherine, was cheating on him and had the lover beheaded. As punishment for his unfaithful wife, Peter keeps the head in a jar and forces her to look at it each day. New tracks grapple with more personal and truthful themes, particularly the trials and joys of being new parents, an experience both Devine and Hull share. “I Love You, I’m Sorry, Please Help Me, Thank You,” which details Devine’s fears of being a father, acts as calming mantra and prayer in moments of terror and stress. Hull’s “Lake House” is a hair-raising and poetic journey into the complications of family life.

In the lull between the final song and the potential encore, the entire room yelled out the chorus of “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life,” from Dirty Dancing. I’ve never seen an audience so completely in sync that way, but there’s something about waiting almost a decade to see a band you love that inextricably ties you to the stranger standing next to you, that forces you to be present and engaged. Devine and Hull traded harmonies on the teeming currents of “Army,” their voices slicing through still air. Everyone was paralyzed, entranced, because this might be the very last time we ever see these two prophets of indie music onstage together. – MARIAH HALL

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