To most of the world, Ben Vaughn is known for his work in television (composing and scoring
3rd Rock From the Sun
That '70s Show
, among other programs), his role as a producer of goofballs (Ween, for one), and his syndicated radio show,
The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn
. To radio jock Jerry Blavat, Vaughn is the "hottest thing since popcorn."
To his (former) fellow Philadelphians, however, Vaughn is a twang-bar king whose inspirations range from rockabilly icons (Duane Eddy) and kitsch masters (Esquivel) to beautiful-music avatars (Paul Mauriat), all marinated in his own sly sense of humor. Since moving to Hollywood, Vaughn rarely gets to the East Coast, so Saturday's two sold-out Tin Angel shows with his quintet were as much a homecoming as they were a status report.
To much adulation during Saturday's late show, Vaughn played through his catalog of self-penned deadpan pop songs and cover tunes with a chill-billy country-swing bent, skiffle rhythms in their step (like Leadbelly's "Good Morning Blues"), and a warm signature voice, resembling Lou Reed's dry, icy tone at its sprightliest.
How could a jumpy song like Vaughn's "Jerry Lewis in France" be anything but convivial? His lean, homey vocals made him the perfect conduit for Mose Allison's silk-and-salty "If You Live" and old-time sentiments like "child, don't mess with that cotton sack/It will scratch your knees and bend your back." Vaughn & Co. reveled in the past's iconography - the Johnny Cash-like pluck applied to the noirish vibe of Ava Gardner Blues, the silly intimacy of When Free Love Reigns - without being fatally flawed by it.
Vaughn's joviality, heightened by the camaraderie of his quintet (saxophonist C.C. Crabtree, accordionist Gus Cordovox, bassist Mike Vogelmann, drummer Seth Baer) made this gig into a house party. The frug-worthy "Rhythm Guitar," the bongo-bouncing "North Wind Blew," Crabtree's Boots Randolph riffs, maracas solos, and Vaughn's admission that Philly is the only town that will tell you to "not play a certain song," made the gig gleeful.
Philly-born, Memphis-dwelling singer/songwriter Dan Montgomery and his acoustic guitar opened Vaughn's show with the voice (and lyrical mien) of a young, hardened Randy Newman - songs about heavy drinking and loneliness, and the night when those two meet, "I Hate New Year's Eve."