Shibboleth shouldn't be in this column. Dallas' nerd-jazz-rockers put on local shows pretty frequently, but theirs is the music people play pool to or sit in the corner with friends and chat over. It's among the best (and certainly most unique) live background music you'll find at a bar in D-FW, but the instrumental songs don't normally translate into a great concert review. So when I heard that local crooner Salim Nourallah would guest-sing with the band this Sunday, I hopped to Barley House to see how vocals would change the quartet's tomfoolery.
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New Yorkers Volcano, I'm Still Excited!! opened by combining the grunge of Slowpoke and the keyboard-pop of Mates of State into a mostly forgettable slab of emo, although songs like "Trunk of My Car" stood out with cute harmonies that overcame sappy lyrics. When Shibboleth took the stage, Nourallah escaped to the bar, during which time the band played a cross between background music on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and a soundtrack to an early-'80s beach-cop movie. Guitarist Don Cento kicked wild licks into Rich Martin's pumping, carnival-loving piano parts, but the live show suffered from its usual lack of charisma until Nourallah joined the band for two covers. On "Season in the Sun," Nourallah's light vocals coasted perfectly atop the band's lively keyboards, and Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again" received unexpected pep from Cento on slide guitar, but the biggest improvement was how much more fun Shibboleth had with a singer. Later, Cento also took a rare turn on vocals for two songs, although his competent singing recalled James Taylor a little too well. It was during Nourallah's brief cameo, though, that Shibboleth finally stopped the pool players and the chatter.