Two songs into his set, though, it was clear the logistics of the room were against Post Falls R & amp;B artist Jamal Ali. Caterina Winery's performance space, packed with chairs and tables, is no kind of dance floor. So Ali improvised.
"This is a party track so ... so clap your hands or something, 'cause," he said, surveying crowd, packed around the tables, tucking into voluminous wine glasses, "we partying tonight." The crowd just laughs. It's an absurd request, and Ali's working the absurdity.
Ali's a hell of a singer and his banter between songs is charming, but through the early part of the set, he, his mic and his computer-supplied beats were fighting an uphill battle against the entropic forces of date-night at the winery. His DJ, sitting cross-legged on the floor behind a bulky desktop computer, wasn't much help. "Hey DJ ... Can you fade it out? Can you fade it out?" Ali asked at the end of a song. The DJ, swaddled in a blisteringly bright black-and-neon hoodie, shook his head no. "That's why I hired him. He's cheap." Another big laugh.
There's no room to slip in such a setup, though. When Ali switched to keyboard, requiring about two minutes of fiddling with his computer, the entire back half of the room was lost to chatting and cuddling and laughing. At that point, all the jokes in his repertoire couldn't get them back.
Wayne Patrick, playing last on this odd R & amp;B-meets-Indie-Rock bill, fared the exact opposite. Talking between songs -- other than to rep his line of Wayne Patrick brand snap little bracelets -- and certainly wasting no time with technical noodling, Patrick and his three-piece band plowed through a set of spry, pop-inflected indie. Though, like Ali, Patrick saved his mid-tempo cuts for the middle and end of his set, he had no problem keeping the crowd's attention.
A single person onstage captivating a crowd of any size is a feat few people can pull off. Todd Snider did it at the Bing Saturday night. Bob Dylan can do it. God knows Luther Vandross could, God rest 'im. But most people need help, even platinum-selling superstars inexplicably. Every rapper in the world has hype men. Madonna employs teams of dancers. Akon has to supplement his Top-40 hooks by dry humping pre-teens. For all but the greatest performers, the stage is a lonely-as-hell place, especially when no one's dancing.
Even something as small as getting bill-mate Wayne Patrick onstage for a single song had helped Ali win the crowd back by increments. Stalking the back of the stage, in a trilby hat, tapered jeans and a furrowed bluesman's brow -- looking one part BB King, three parts Pete Doherty -- Patrick's wheedling impressionistic guitar licks added a ton of dynamism.
That isn't to suggest Patrick is a better performer than Ali. They're really pretty similar. Both are great musically. Both have compelling voices. Both know the key performance tropes of their respective genres (though both use them sparingly). The difference is that, when Wayne Patrick isn't really doing anything, there are two other performers to fixate on. (Drummer Sam Stoner and bassist Aaron Schaber were both fun to watch Friday.) When Ali isn't doing anything, there's nothing to do but stare at that archaic-ass desktop computer whirring quietly on the floor and wonder if it has Minesweeper.
Jamal Ali's music can be heard at www.myspace.com/jamalmusic. Hear Wayne Patrick at www.myspace.com/waynepatrick.