Soul-folkie Citizen Cope goes down like a shot of Kentucky whiskey with a crème chaser.
Sound a little too smooth? Hang in there. It gets better.
Since the days when the singer with the knotted bun packed Tin Angel with locals hungry for his laid-back funky tunes and amiably raspy vocals, there's been a breezy conviviality between Philly and the Citizen. "Philly was the first city to give me love," Cope, the Washington, D.C., native born Clarence Greenwood, said from the stage of the Electric Factory on Saturday night.
Cope sold out that gig to drunky frat boys, dreadlock-wearing girls and their bomber-jacket-wearing elders. Cope's on again for New Year's Eve at the Fillmore at TLA, pushing revelers to ring in 2008 in sumptuous style.
How sumptuous? Imagine the languid whirr of Dark Side of the Moon played huskily by The Band. Cope's vocals are clarion clean, with lilt reminiscent of G. Love and the scowled vowels of Jagger. Add songs dipped in reggae, deeply (the bubbling elegant dub of "Contact") and ever-so-slightly (the roots rocking "Bullet and a Target"). Serve lukewarm.
It's an even-keeled mien Cope worked, a groove that once burrowed into rarely broke free. That's not to say there weren't thrilling raptures - the tango rocking rush of "Brother Lee," the barroom piano tinkling vibe of "Every Waking Moment," the mismatch of cheerily strummed off-key guitars and diabolical down-tuned chords for "Sideways."
For all his ease, Cope's lyrics did not go easy into the night. The lovers in his acoustic version of "Pablo Picasso" were oddly primed for demented aggression. There were Judases to reckon with in "Salvation" and no shortage of problems amidst the rhymes of "Let the Drummer Kick." But Cope's monotone vocal sway, the sameness of the melodies, proved tedious after a while and things that should have been thrills - shrill but sexy guest vocals by Alice Smith on "107°," the laundry list of obsessions of "Fame" - seemed listless.
Cope's long set was lovely. But bring noisemakers if you go to the TLA.