In a dark, intimate setting, Dietrich Strause reached deep within himself to captivate an audience.
Dietrich Strause plays the kind of music that got its start around campfires. His brand of Americana storytelling is best heard with an amenable audience that is eager and willing to be transported to a different world.
The atmosphere at Cambridge’s Lizard Lounge allowed Strause’s talent to captivate and transcend to shine bright. Because it’s just that: a lounge. A small one at that, where it’s difficult to decipher where the stage begins and the crowd ends, where a hushed conversation can become a roar.
But when Strause struck the first notes of “Boy Born to Die” from How Cruel That Hunger Binds a hush descended over the subterranean venue. The only ambient noise that remained came from the bar, some of which distracted from the overall enjoyment of the show throughout the night.
The small venue didn’t stop Strause from cramming as many instruments and musicians on stage as he could. He was accompanied by a litany of local music greats that helped him tear through his discography. At one point he practically challenged the audience on his band’s laurels: “Tell me these aren’t the three best fucking guys you’ve heard in your life.”
The crew included Zachariah Hickman, who performs with Ray Lamontagne. Hickman was clad in a vest and sported a Snidely Whiplash mustache. His double bass scraped the low-hanging ceiling and he played it with the verve of a man furiously plucking a chicken. Also along for the show was the drummer Billy Beard, a member of locals Session Americana.
The band played a dizzying, 18-song hootenanny full of waltzes, folk, rock, blues, hymnals, and all other forms of Americana. But through it all, Strause commanded both the room’s and the band’s attention.
The front of the stage to the back wall at Lizard Lounge must be no more than 15 feet, but Strause held a middle-distance stare like he could conjure up the meaning of life in that short interval. He transcended the physical space he occupied, espousing his deepest and realest emotions through sound.
His showmanship came through most when he played “The Beast That Rolls Within,” an allegorical tale set in Boston’s subway. It was a literal showstopper—the only song of that night that ended the peripheral chatter. Strause, alone with his guitar and voice, held the crowd in the palm of his hand. When it ended, a solid five seconds passed before anyone clapped, as if they’d need to collect themselves.
In the long tradition of attempting to captivate an audience with some words and a tune, Strause showed his worth. During his rendition of “Annie Dear,” the crowd unexpectedly began to sing along. Startled for a second, Strause then chuckled and asked: “You guys wanna come on the road with us?”