LIVE: The Doug Kwartler Band @ Caffe Lena, 1/8/12

Review by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Joseph Deuel

Just a week earlier, Boston-based songwriter Doug Kwartler was holding down a spot at the Saratoga Springs Post Office, competing for the attention of the many New Year’s Eve revelers who thronged the streets during the city’s First Night celebration.

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So the intimate confines of Caffé Lena soon after marked an improvement – presumably for Kwartler, a New York-native who mentioned onstage that he has friends in the area and always wanted to play the storied coffee house – but also for members of the modest crowd who came out on a Sunday night to hear him for a second time.

Doug Kwartler

Doug Kwartler

The close-quartered, alcohol-absent Caffé Lena setting encourages rapt attention, so Kwartler – backed by upright bassist Rusty Chandler, drummer Ben Dicke and Son Volt guitarist Mark Spencer – had plenty of room to explain the origins of his rootsy folk-rock tunes, which ranged from heartfelt and personal to socially conscious and topical.

The pensive, shuffling “Silver Meteor” was inspired by a train trip the flight-adverse Kwartler took down south with his pregnant wife and by the people they met. The jaunty, juke-joint-jumpin’ “Banjo Eyes” took its title from a compliment Kwartler’s young daughter received from a stranger outside a Long Island pizza joint. The physical travails of getting older led to “Bad Knee,” and “Peace for the Heart He Gave” was a reverent tribute to John Vincent Power, a World War II hero from Worchester.

Kwartler may currently be best known for his anti-Scott Walker, worker-solidarity tune, “Hang on Wisconsin,” which has a video that’s captured thousands of views on YouTube. That song – fueled by Kwartler’s harmonica and Spencer’s masterful lap steel guitar – sounded great at Lena’s. “I might be by on Wednesday for the Occupy Night,” Kwartler announced at the end of the show, demonstrating his protest-folk bona fides by closing with a cover of Woody Guthrie’s rambling-man ballad, “I Ain’t Got No Home.”

The Doug Kwartler Band @ Caffe Lena, Saratoga Springs. Photo by Joseph Deuel

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