A.A. Bondy – St. Mary’s Creative Space, Chester, UK (7th November 2019)

Alabama born Auguste Arthur Bondy started his musical career as a guitarist and vocalist with indie grunge band Verbena. Formed out of high school and initially featuring Daniel Johnston on bass, the mildly successful group would go on to release three full-length albums before calling it quits in 2003.

Relocating to New York’s Catskill Mountains, A.A. Bondy began focusing on a solo career and released his debut American Hearts in 2007. Taking a more folk, country and blues inspired approach, his lyrics had become more personal and downbeat. Two more well crafted albums followed with When The Devil’s Loose in 2009 and Believers in 2011, but then he suddenly vanished from the music world.

A few years of heavy drinking and some time spent at an MDMA surf club in Los Angeles, Bondy made his return to songwriting in 2016. It was during this time that the songs for Enderness came together, his first release in eight years and the fourth of his career. However, in unfortunate circumstances a wildfire would burn down his house the day after the album was completed.

A departure from his previous work, Enderness finds Bondy dealing in a hypnotically minimalist style of electronica, with his lyrics darker and more intriguing than ever. It’s about as solo as solo albums get with Bondy not only playing every instrument on the record, but he also recorded, produced, mixed and has even been touring it himself. One of the stops on the UK part of his tour was Chester, invited to play in the city by Roman Candle Productions.

Performing Enderness in full with a few extra tunes thrown in at the end, the venue for this incredibly intimate show couldn’t have been more perfect. A grade I listed deconsecrated church, St. Mary’s Creative Space has hosted some incredible events in the past couple of years. Although, it’s unlikely that anyone quite as unique as A.A. Bondy will pass through again any time soon.

Support typically comes from someone local, especially at smaller shows like this one, but Bondy made a special request that this not be a musician of any kind. Instead, warming up the audience was local magician Nick Rea performing sleight of hand style tricks with some participation from members of the audience.

An additional request from Bondy was that all lights around the venue be turned off, with only the red rope light on his keyboard and the projector screen behind him providing illumination. Beginning with Enderness opener ‘Diamond Skull’ on which he touches upon our addiction with celebrities, the electric guitar heard on the album was played entirely on keyboard live but it was just as mesmerising, if not more so.

Working through his new album, the performance of every track was simply superb. His vocals sounding better than they ever have on the likes of the organ-led ‘Killers 3’ and the fragile bass-led single ‘Images of Love’, there’s something utterly compelling about his beautifully bleak ruminations on the darker side of modern existence.

Broken up by three ambient instrumentals, including the Prince montage accompanying ‘Pan Tran’, the spectral electronic piano of ‘Fentanyl Freddy’ with its focus on America’s opioid crisis left the room utterly floored. Closing his set with a couple of re-worked older tunes, he returned for an encore of Nat King Cole’s ‘Smile’. Which, after such a devastating performance, makes us love A.A. Bondy even more.

Enderness is available now via Fat Possum Records

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