Listening to Jeff Buckley's mannered, anguished singing is like watching a high-wire act; you keep waiting for him to hyperventilate and fall into an abyss of melodrama, but the catastrophe never happens. Buckley often achieves an intimate, wistful vocal delivery recalling romantic European balladeers like Edith Piaf and Luciano Tajoli; his appropriations of the French chanson tradition (e.g., in his rendition of Piaf's "Je n'en connais pas la fln") are blessedly free of corny, theatrical overstatement. At other times, when he gets to howling, he just can't help sounding like his father, the late Tim Buckley (some of the long vocal extemporizations in Jeff's rendition of Van Morrison's "Like Lovers Do," from the solo CD Live at Sin-e, sound almost like something from Tim's Starsailor). Buckley's preferences in chord changes and melody reflect extensive exposure to 70s rock, especially Led Zeppelin; sometimes his phrasing owes so much to Robert Plant it's almost funny. But make no mistake, Buckley uses these disparate approaches toward some nicely edgy purposes of his own, working his performances toward an almost neurotic, yet never undignified, intensity. And he does so with enough force and authority to render the folksinger label, or just about any other label, ridiculous. Having already attracted attention with his free-flying, unpredictable solo performances, Buckley now has a band; it remains to be seen whether the constraints of working with other musicians will flatten out the idiosyncratic subtleties in his style. Tuesday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334. Wednesday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 878-5552.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Gahr.