BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
“I was never in it for the money. I was in it for the art,” Willy DeVille insists in a brief prologue prior to this concert getting underway. “When you’re a musician, you have a passion to play.”
That’s a fine, if succinct, summation of DeVille’s career, one that took him from post punk notoriety with his band Mink DeVille and later towards a certain rarified status on his own. A street musician in spirit, if not always in practice, he offered a fervent blend of rock, folk and swamp-soaked blues, all underscored with a Latin accent and his own particular mix of skill and savvy. He purveyed a somewhat sinister presence on stage as well; seated at a stool, with his long ink-black hair swept back over his shoulders, the barest snippet of a mustache highlighting a pale complexion and a nose that angles decidedly to the right, he looks a pirate playing impresario as he holds court in Amsterdam’s Paradiso Club in 2005. “Do you realise how long I’ve been coming to this dump?” he snarls, without betraying any hint of irony. “Twenty seven years!”
Nevertheless, if familiarity breeds contempt, there’s no hint of it here. With a superb band and two back-up singers in tow, DeVille runs down some 21 tunes, incorporating signature songs from Mink DeVile (“Cadillac Walk,” “Spanish Stroll,” “Savoir Faire”), his own individual efforts (“Crow Jane Alley,” the title track of his final album) and choice covers that effortlessly fit the format (“Low Rider,” “Come a Little Bit Closer,” “Hey Joe” and “Slave to Love”). The audience seems enthralled. Indeed, diverse origins aside, DeVille wraps his guttural vocals ably around each offering, adding gypsy like embellishment and his own take on the image of a tireless troubadour.
Bonus interview segments add further insight, but DeVille, who died from cancer in 2009, says it best in his music, his stealth-like sobriety shielding the soul of man who pursued a seemingly limitless muse. Live in the Lowland is all the testimony it takes.
Bonus features: Interview with Willy DeVille