Romantica at the Aster Cafe

Ben Kyle of Romantica as the Aster Cafe - Photo by Meredith Westin

Romantica is the kind of band you find yourself at home with even if you’ve never heard them before. They are comfortingly familiar, operating solidly under the Americana genre, giving listeners a little bit of the country and a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll. Ben Kyle’s voice eases from one song into the next, and he could be channeling Van Morrison (an Irishman, like Kyle) or Ryan Adams—either way, there’s something in his songs that reverberate with the kind of heartbreaking honesty most bands never quite find.

What may be most striking about Romantica is that palpable quality they have of making time feel like it is passing even as it stands still while they are playing. They are a band born of tradition; you hear it in the stunning pedal steel of Joe Savage, in the twangy 6-string guitar of Danger Dave Strahan, the rhythm of Tony Zaccardi’s bass, and the solemn beats of James Orvis on drums. You can feel that tradition in a live performance, where the songs are something like a cowboy’s fireside story—girls and sports and drinking and travelling and being home. There are no synthesizers, no laptops hooked up to speakers, no spandex costumes—indeed, just when the music world seems almost oversaturated with experimental emotive pop and emotional folk, Romantica manages to breathe some life into a new scene while ostensibly playing to nostalgia.

This sort of humble presence was perfect for the new music venue Aster Café on St. Anthony Main. The intimate main room of the Aster filled up, with a few people left standing in the back, and the atmosphere was one of old friends coming together to enjoy a good thing—which is essentially what Romantica delivered. (And unlike playing in a crowded bar or a festival or at a huge concert hall, the setting at the Aster is one of a “listening room”, where the bands get all the attention and viewers can enjoy the sounds, food and drink without getting spilled on or stepped on.)

After the hugely successful release of their 2007 America (which notably made Paste Magazine’s Top 100 of 2007 album list), Romantica’s stage presence is that of a band that knows exactly who they are and what they want to do. They play with the acuity of veterans, and as Kyle succumbed to the pressure of an encore (“Well, if you insist, we’ll just stay on the stage…”), he told the audience, “This song just came to me in San Francisco at three in the morning a while ago… we haven’t really rehearsed it with these guys yet…”

“Just tell me what key it’s in,” said Savage, as the band settled back into their instruments.

“It’s in E,” replied Kyle, tuning his guitar and looking gently amused.

“E? I can do E. Okay.”

And with that, the band broke into “The Dark.” (Listen to the song on their Myspace here.) A little heavy, but with Kyle’s gliding voice, even a melancholy song is a little less sad.

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