Gibbons and the Sluts, playing unplugged save for a sporadically utilized microphone, opened with one of the most perplexingly incisive statements I had ever witnessed, a repeated seven word incantation that, by design or by instinct, dissected about half of what it feels like to be human. "I was born," Gibbons sang in his pleading, nasal wail, "to be your unicorn. I was born to be your unicorn." Filled out by Gibbons' banjo and his driving band of sluts--drums and upright bass, plaintive accordion and trumpet--the song, with miraculous brevity and rhythmic force, seemed to encapsulate human desire in all its hopeless desperation. Whether you're a pining suitor or an artist addressing an audience, all the excess verbiage you produce can be reduced to, "I was born to be your unicorn." Revealing yourself in any situation--declaring your love, opening a rock and roll set to any audience, be it devoted or skeptical--you are saying, in effect, that you are something beautiful, and something rare, and nothing ordinary. Most of us fail and disappoint, never living up to our promise, revealing ourselves to have been born to be something else entirely. Perhaps that's even the case for all of us; I've never seen a unicorn. But there's an overwhelming beauty and humanity in the proclamation itself, and its insistence: "I was born to be your unicorn."
Or maybe it's just a song about a unicorn.
What came next were joyous songs, but it was a hard-won, wise joy, never easy and never cloying. Much of the feeling was contained in the rambunctious racket the band produced and the evident pleasure with which Gibbons' voice filled the room, with or without amplification, with lyrics full of surreal leaps and bluesy repetition. The accordionist played a crucial role in every song, harnessing her instrument's full potential for both triumph and melancholy in ways I'd never heard or imagined. And what songs they were--two minute bursts of exhilarating folk-punk flights and dreambound sea shanties.
The closing number--which, while I've been wrong before, I'm pretty sure is about how you shouldn't let little things get you down and should instead focus on good things--managed to skirt the self-help uplift of its content through the immensity of its form. It lasted so defiantly long--by the end, most of the band had gotten bored and left the room--that the pervasive, tedious difficulty of the reality behind the song's straightforward advice was almost tangibly evident. "Don't let the little things get you down," Gibbons demanded, over and over and over and over, "because they're not good. You gotta be thinkin' 'bout the good things. Don't let the little things get you down. Because they're not good. You gotta be thinkin' 'bout the good things."
Okay. It's worth a shot.