Kid Dakota gets chameleonic at the Kitty Cat Klub

Darren Jackson is a musician fluent in fluctuation; his work under the Kid Dakota moniker is decidedly more somber than his hook-laden pop band the Hopefuls, and both projects have seen their share of lineup changes, yet he bounces between each realm with ease. As an astute songwriter, Jackson is just as believable singing about girls and sunshine as he is singing about addiction and depression, a testament to his sincerity as well as his artistic versatility. So while Saturday night's pair of contrasting sets at the Kitty Cat Klub may have seemed unusual for some musicians, it was almost business as usual for the chameleonic Jackson.

After an opening set by Big Trouble, which was unfortunately chattered over despite a series of jaw-dropping solos by Steve McPherson (an occasional City Pages contributor and phenomenal guitarist) and Josh Peterson (a prolific guitarist most recognized for his work in Heiruspecs), the stage was cleared for Kid Dakota's first feat of the evening. Jackson performed his first set accompanied by the improvisational jazz quartet the Fantastic Merlins, and after a few songs it became clear that the group would be working within a repertoire of Leonard Cohen covers, some familiar and some more obscure.

The backing band provided a loose, almost cabaret-like feel for the Cohen covers, with Nathan Hanson's saxophone meanderings blending seamlessly with Matt Turner's electric cello -- at times it was difficult to tell which musician was creating which winding riff. Jackson's low baritone voice was a natural fit for Cohen's morose melodies, and the whole performance had a dark but ironically playful feel. Further research shows that Jackon and the Fantastic Merlins are finishing a new album of Cohen's songs together, titled How the Light Gets In, and it will will be released in conjunction with a performance at the Sons d'Hiver Festival in Paris next month.

After a short break, Jackson returned to play a set of more straightforward Kid Dakota tunes, backed by Brian Roessler of the Fantastic Merlins, Peter Leggett of Heiruspecs, and Jordan Koel of the Debut. Though Kid Dakota usually produces plenty of volume as a two-piece, the addition of extra players allowed them to ratched up the noise even higher and crescendo to skin-shaking, wall-buzzing climaxes.

It may not seem like Kid Dakota's soul-wrenching, introspective songs would be a fitting prescription for lifting the post-holiday sun starved spirits, but Jackson's lyrics can be oddly comforting at this time of year. At one point, a friend next to me said he didn't know whether to be happy or sad, and I muttered something about feeling pleasantly devastated -- if we can't have sunlight, at least we can dance in the dark together.

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