With the release of “Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket” (Rounder), actress Minnie Driver has joined other thesps with the credo “all I really want to do is sing.” But if someone walked into the Troubadour Tuesday night without checking the marquee, they have come away thinking they’ve discovered an attractive, up and coming country-folk warbler.
Absolutely nothing about her hourlong set would have tipped you off that she was an actress moonlighting as a singer-songwriter (she wrote all the material on the album), no sense that she has taken up music as a lark. Watching her on the stage, it’s obvious that she feels the music in her bones. There’s the sultry way she draws out the syllables on “Wire,” the easy lilt that starts the title song, and her fearless reworking of Springteen’s “Hungry Heart,” turning it into a ballad of quiet yearning. It’s territory that’s been covered by Norah Jones and Natalie Merchant (both in subject matter and phrasing), but when Driver moves into more aggressive terrain on “Invisible Girl” and “Complicated Man,” elements of Chrissie Hynde edge into her vocals.
But Driver is, if anything, too low-key a performer. Surprisingly for an actress, she doesn’t command the attention of the audience. She tosses off her comments from the stage, letting them fade into indecipherable mumbles. Dressed modestly in a striped shirt and black slacks, her stage moves are limited to a slight roll of her shoulders and the occasional swivel of her hips. Her biggest gesture is the broad smile that lights up her face when her crack band (anchored by the Wallflowers’ Rami Jaffee) leans into the music. But this could be seen as a testament to her craft. Driver doesn’t have the broad public persona of thesps-turned-musicians Juliette Lewis, Billy Bob Thornton or Bruce Willis, but there’s enough talent on hand to make her progress worth watching.
Peter Himmelman, who preceded Driver, has no lack of personality. He is willing to go wherever his impulses take him. He opens the set by unplugging his guitar, jumping from the stage and performing in the middle of the aud. He later grabs two go-go booted girls from the crowd to join him on stage, has another fan count off a song “so we can rock for you,” adds a reggae beat to “Mission of My Soul.”
He leaves the stage momentarily because he wants to make a new, and more theatrical, entrance, and makes up lyrics on the spot, using signs hung on the club’s walls. It’s an impressive high-wire act, performed without a net, and the bits and pieces of songs that make it through whet your interest for more.
Driver and Himmelman play Gotham’s Bowery Ballroom Sunday.