Minus the alt-rock clamor of his former band, Elefant, singer-songwriter Diego Garcia reveals himself on "Laura,'' his broken-hearted solo debut. Garcia disrobed even further — musically, that is — before a small yet enthusiastic audience Tuesday night at DC9. The 40-minute set included most of the Latin-tinged new album's tunes, but not the over-upholstered sound of their studio versions.
Even before Garcia began strumming his acoustic guitar, the format indicated that this would not be a rock-and-roll show. The Argentinian-American musician was flanked by only a guitarist and cellist, all three seated on high chairs. During the first number, Garcia leaned into the microphone and pledged, with just a hint of melodrama, "I got nothing to hide.''
That seemed reasonably accurate, and this openness benefited the material. Zeke Zima's fluid, Spanish-style playing and Danny Bensi's bowing and plucking (and versatile backing vocals) left plenty of room for Garcia's occasionally husky croon. Yet their accompaniment provided a greater dynamic range than on the album, which is genteel to a fault.
There was one drawback to the starker approach. In accenting Diego's voice, the trio also highlighted his lyrics, which don't have anything novel or compelling to say about the girl who got away. Although it's not on "Laura,'' "No More'' was typical: It compared a lost love to a poem, a bird, the sun and the moon. Such commonplace sentiments weren't enriched by the obvious rhyme schemes, which matched "say"with “away,'' "pretend'' with "defend'' and "you never cared'' with "you were never there." Such lazy pairings may sound more natural in Spanish or Portuguese.
If Garcia is now taking his cues from Caetano Veloso rather than the Smiths, he hasn't entirely forgotten rock. One of the evening's highlights was a version of "This Strange Effect,'' a Kinks song so obscure that only a committed fan would know it. Such pleasant surprises, and the trio's deft ensemble playing, suggest that Garcia's new direction is not a dead end street.
Garcia will return to DC9 on May 10.