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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Last Night: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone at Bottom of the Hill

Posted By on Sat, May 29, 2010 at 1:57 PM

  • Emily Savage

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
@Bottom of the Hill
May 28 2010

Better than: Newfangled technology

There's a ghost in the machine. "Wizards did it!" one helpful audience member offered. Yes, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (A.K.A Owen Ashworth) was suffering from a few minor technical difficulties during his Popfest appearance at Bottom of the Hill last night. But the bearded solo songwriter didn't appear to let feedback snafus get him down.

And though the crowd dwindled by mid-set, those who remained were literally plastered with smiles, dutifully calling out song after song for the solo musician.

It seemed an odd mix of both bands and people. This could have been due to the show being all-ages. Or it could have been a fluke. Whatever the reason, there were tiny ladies in sparkly headbands, skater boys with outsized shirts, a great many twee pop dandies and a handful of aging indie rock kids (read: me).

Despite their differences, the audience crowded near the stage and energetically danced during poppy local opening acts English Singles, Antarctica Takes It!, and Nodzz.

When Casiotone for the Painfully Alone appeared, unaccompanied behind a folding table covered with classic keyboards, pedals and an abundance of colorful wires, the noisy crowded lowered their voices to a murmur. The show was a homecoming of sorts for the Redwood City-raised, Chicago-based musician.

"I have a few announcements," he said without inflection. "Someone left behind his copy of the 'Communist Manifesto' up here. And also a toothbrush." Ashworth then launched into "Optimist vs. the Silent Alarm," off 2009's Vs. Children, full of swooshing, up-tempo electric beats and minor keyboard tinkering, ending with a quick "When the Saints Go Marching In" outro.

  • Emily Savage

Just like that, we were captivated. His conversational tone, and buzzing beats layered with somber, brooding vocals were enough to reel us in, like a long-lost cousin playing keyboard in the living room, regaling the family with the story of his life. It felt that intimate.

His set included many starts and stops, personal stories about friends and bank robbers and a few jokes ("What did the zero say to the eight? Nice belt"). He crooned with sincerity, playing dozens of songs off his decade-long catalog along with an inspired cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia."

Ashworth lived up to his self-appointed name; his show did boast the classic 1980s-style Casiotone keyboard, and his songs are likely downtrodden enough to spin the devastatingly alone into a web of introspective despair. Though judging solely by the golden wedding band wrapped around his thick left hand, I'm guessing he's alone no more.

Critics Notebook:

Personal bias: The crowd's median age of at least five years younger than me made me crabby.

Random detail: There was a brief, heated scuffle between a thick man and a significantly smaller boy regarding space issues, each pushing to be closer to Ashworth. Pretty amusing.

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Emily Savage


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