Come’s new sound is more fierce, vulnerable than ever

by Greg Kot

from the Chicago Tribune, 1996?

chicago1Everything was as it should be at a Come concert: Singer Thalia Zedek exuded a sullen, sallow-eyed androgyny beneath her jet-black hair and omnipresent veil of cigarette smoke. Chris Brokaw stood to her left, blond, boyish and a few pounds away from emaciation, making his own smoke rings while extracting toxic magic from his guitar strings.

The mood? Black as night, of course; harsh and harrowing, but also somehow prettier, particularly in a new ballad, “Sloe-Eyed.”

Hard to believe this band had washed ashore last summer when its estimable rhythm section quit, leaving founding members Zedek and Brokaw in a lurch. But instead of fidgeting, the Boston-based duo booked studio time in Chicago, where they recorded their third and best album, the recently released “Near Life Experience,” with a large cast of hired guns.

At Lounge Ax over the weekend, Zedek and Brokaw appeared with new recruits Kevin Coultas on drums, Tara Jane O’Neil on bass and Beth Heinberg on keyboards. While the original Come lineup conjured mid-tempo tread and melancholy, virtually to the exclusion of everything else, the new lineup does that and more. The new songs, such as “Hurricane” and “Bitten” — the high points of the Lounge Ax performance — show the group sounding more vulnerable, but also fiercer than ever.

What hasn’t changed is the spellbinding power of Zedek’s voice, which has a raw, barbed-wire twisting intensity matched by few rock singers.

chicago2Equally thrilling to observe at close range is the dialogue between the guitars of Brokaw and Zedek. One minute they twist like snakes around each other, the next they rip and tear like crosscut saws. Their interplay is the stuff of an extraordinary rock guitar duo, not in the traditional sense of lead and rhythm, but in the sense of two musicians who flip in and out of both roles with telepathic ease.

This is an interplay defined not by virtuoso technique but by riffs and propulsive rhythmic shifts. The group occasionally breaks into rhythms that suggest Bo Diddley’s Latin-influenced drive or a stuttering bolero, sometimes playing these more exotic tempos against a more traditional rock time signature. So while the group is playing at half speed, Brokaw will break into a gallop with a series of eighth-note chops, or douse the proceedings in a honeyed drone by applying a slide to the strings.

This was guitar rock steeped in the tradition of the Stones and the Dream Syndicate, made all the more remarkable because Come really wasn’t a band anymore a few months ago.

“What did ya give me in my sleep last night?” Zedek sang, as though startled to find herself on this particular stage, with these particular players, making music this undeniable.