Josh Kelley and Toby Lightman at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, Thursday 13 May 2004
A new crop of young singer-songwriters seems to pop up every few months. On Thursday night at the 9:30 club, two fresh faces, Josh Kelley and Toby Lightman, treated a modest crowd to their acoustic rock. Lightman played a short opening set with a mature voice that boomed from her tiny frame. Her R&B-styled vocals were distinctive, but after a while her self-centered subject matter sounded like lovesick entries from the margins of a high school notebook.
The mood lightened when Kelley took the stage. The strength of his performance lay in his goofy personality and friendly demeanor. He made up verses on the fly, asking his roadie to bring him some shots during "Pokerface" and bemoaning a broken guitar string in "Old Time Memory." While that spontaneous energy would have been lost in a larger venue -- or in a more full club -- the crowd was just the right size for his performance to be intimate and genuine.
Kelley's only band mate, Ben Peeler, played everything from slide guitar to banjo -- and even a saz, a Turkish instrument similar to a bouzouki. Peeler's acoustic twang added just the right flavor to Kelley's songs to differentiate him from the hordes of solo artists hoping to be the next Dave Matthews.
-- Catherine P. Lewis