One was a local favorite, the second a Nashville song stylist with a regional connection and the third a Jersey boy who couldn’t count Mother Nature among his fans. That was the bill for the fifth and final installment of WUKY’s Phoenix Friday concert series.
Up first was Lexington’s own Justin Wells, the guitar force behind the now disbanded Fifth on the Floor (“We made a pittance but we had a blast”). Wells channeled the electric drive of his former band into a solo acoustic set that boiled over with boisterous blues intensity (“Going Down Grinnin’”), wary country sensibility (“The Highway Less Taken”) and tough love road stories (“The Dogs”). There was also a very dark makeover of Dire Straits’ “So Far Away” that was not for the skittish. “There will be a lot of happy songs after my set,” Wells said almost apologetically.
Nashville song stylist and one-time Frankfort dweller Derik Hultquist followed with a set that could indeed be termed happier. But it was more of a stylistic detour than anything else, with songs pulled mostly from his new “Southern Iron” album that employed a backup quartet to flesh out music drenched in heavily atmospheric pop. Hultquist’s high and hushed vocals distinguished songs like “One Horse Town,” “Garden of Roses” and “Devil’s in the Details.” But the primary ingredient to this mood music was actually guitarist Steve Page, whose layers of ambiance added hearty doses of chill to Hultquist’s cinematic pop.
Headliner Anthony D’Amato whittled Hultquist’s broader pop soundscapes down to leaner, rootsier and more narrative-heavy songs that reflected the traditions of his native New Jersey. Tagging Bruce Springsteen might seem like an overly easy comparison, but there was more than a passing nod to the Jersey cool of the Boss’ early records in “Good and Ready” and a show of lean rock ‘n’ roll smarts within the smart riffs that propelled “Rain on a Strange Roof” and the loose jamboree shuffle underscoring the show opening “Was a Time.” But “Ballad of the Undecided” brought the show to an abrupt close. Actually, the beginnings of an evening storm did. The rain quickly dispersed the crowd, leaving a bemused D’Amato, who was clearly just getting warmed up, with a premature shutdown.