Thalia Zedek w/ the Clairvoyants
Market Theater
Cambridge, MA

Thalia Zedek, former singer and guitarist of erstwhile furious and intelligent Boston rock outfit Come, performed a technically flawless set Saturday, September 1. But even seeing the work from her new set "Been Here and Gone" performed live with the aid of Come-accomplice Chris Brokaw couldn't infuse the material with the raw desperation that characterized Come's work.

So what? The back story is that Come was one of the best and overlooked indie rock bands of the 90s, never quite garnering the popularity of label-mates like Pavement or Yo La Tengo, instead settling for well-earned critical acclaim. Come created four brawling, dark rock albums in that decade, culminating with the double LP "Gently Down the Stream" in 1998. Now Zedek is promoting her latest record, a marked departure from her previous work.

"Been Here and Gone" (Matador), her first solo effort, is a more personal, beautiful set of songs. Unfortunately, while Zedek wears her heart on her sleeve on the record, it lacks intensity. Settling in at Cambridge's intimate Market Theater, a small 100-seat space that seems more appropriate for staging a cotillion, I hoped that seeing the work performed live would make me like it more. Seeing Brokaw take the stage with Zedek raised my hopes; the two had received numerous accolades for their symbiotic guitar work in their previous combo, neither settling for only lead or rhythm duties.

But in the end the performers couldn't add much of a spark to Zedek's new material. Not that it is bad; it just seems to fall flat, to brood a little too much, too long. The show's highlights included a spirited "Dance Me to the End of Love," a dirge backed by a driving beat that Zedek and accompanists rode to a frenetic crescendo. The instrumental "10th Lament," which the group closed the show with, came the closest to recapturing some of Come's spewing magnificence. Brokaw even broke a smile during the tune, as he riffed along with the accompanying viola player. The only other time he smiled during the night was off-stage before the encore, where the band feverishly lit and sucked cigarettes for a few seconds before retaking the stage.

"Back to School" and "1926," a piano-backed ballad, also felt fresh, but the rest of the twelve-song set seemed to stagger from one reverby, cowboy-bluesish number to the next. It says something that I got more of a thrill seeing J. Mascis (former chief bottle-washer for superlative indie outfit Dinosaur Jr., now solo) stroll through the room than I got from much of Zedek's performance. Which is too bad.

I still recommend that people, particularly those who haven't seen Come before, get out and see Zedek if she passes through their town. Though somewhat belabored, her songwriting is still unique. And, if you are lucky, maybe she and Brokaw will begin working some old material into the set.

Local act the Clairvoyants deserve kudos for their opening set, which tread some of the same stylistic ground as Zedek, but with more surprises and variety. The Clairvoyants' songs would seem an appropriate musical product should Chris Isaak ever front the late-lamented slo-core act Codeine. With clever noise thrown in by the group's organist, another a chap who sat on the floor with a telecaster, and a stand-up double bass player, the Clairvoyant's act was subdued, beautiful and sort of mystical. I would have sprung for their record on my way out if I had seen it.

-by Jay Breitling, Boston