Franz Nicolay

The Village Tavern

Thurs. Aug. 6

So many times, the musical stylings of a Charleston watering hole on a Thursday night are typical and uninspiring. When Franz Nicolay took the stage at the Village Tavern Thursday evening, this was certainly not the case.

Singer/guitarist Sadler Vaden of local band Leslie had already warmed up the crowd with a bluesy set full of improvised guitar riffs and rhyming lyrics. But the main act was heading in a completely different direction. Dressed to the nines in a light gray suit accessorized with cuff links, pocket square, and fedora, Nicolay’s look hinted that this was no bland performer. His ascension to the stage with an accordion and banjo, in addition to his guitar, perked up patrons.

Nicolay’s claim to fame as keyboardist of The Hold Steady didn’t prepare the audience for his performance. He exuding a deep baritone of near operatic proportions. His songs covered topics like revolution and “punk rock redemption.” Even his audience chatter centered on the unusual, specifically tax-form designations. He quickly interchanged instruments without being held captive to their stereotypes; his banjo songs weren’t folky or rustic, and the romance that he brought to the accordion was astounding. The most memorable song was an accordion tango about sailors, executed beautifully without feeling obtusely novel.

Nicolay’s penchant for sporadic leg kicks enhanced his offbeat stage presence. The random gesticulations were an ingenious device that kept all eyes glued on the seasoned performer. There was no telling what he’d do next. The artist ended his set by wandering absent-mindedly away from his guitar amplifier, as though suddenly bored by the scenery, or as though he had all of a sudden had a better idea.

The only disappointment was that the show didn’t draw a larger crowd. As locals whine for more unique acts and nationally recognized talent, it makes one wonder how such a multifaceted gem like Nicolay could go under-noticed.