Truth be told, Ward was far better than a Somerville gig three years ago when he was on the inert side when it came to any sense of excitement and showmanship.
Ward was better on those counts - way better - and it made a big difference.
What the Portland, Ore. rootsy/sort of folkie artist has going for him are a passel of high quality songs, including a batch from his just released "A Wasteland Companion."
Highlights from the new disc included Primitive Girl, the very fast and upbeat sounding Me and My Shadow and Clean Slate. Ward's raspy voice puts an edge on the song. His may not the most beautiful, but there's a realness, an authenticity to it that worked.
Ward, who may be better known for his very successful collaboration with actress Zoey Daschanel as She & Him, also has an ace band up his sleeve to help. And that would actually start with him because his guitar playing is superb. He gets a bull-bodied sound, anchoring a chunk of the material with a rootsy/country throwback sound (the spare and poppy I Got Ideas). He also has country guitarist Chris Scruggs (grandson of the late Earl) aboard along with Mike Coykendall (ex-Old Joe Clarks mainstay) on guitar and Scott McPherson on drums. They all fit well within the context of the music.
Ward put his own stamp on Rave On, played as less of a rave up and more of a steady beat with soft vocals as the close of the hour-long regular set. Ward continued with covers with Roll Over Beethoven leading off the two-song encore, although his voice doesn't have the requisite vibrancy for the song.
That was about the only song that fell short on this night - M. Ward's assertions notwithstanding.
Lee Ranaldo Band opened the evening with a surprising set. Ranaldo is best known for doing duty with Sonic Youth (now is on hiatus), but one would not have necessarily made the connection in seeing Ranaldo.
There was a definitive pop element to his music. Ranaldo also displayed an easy going stage presence, enjoying the chance to play a different type of music than his longstanding gig.
Ranaldo, who is touring behind this year's "Between The Times And Tides" (Matador), had vocals, often mixed very high, that worked with the material as well. So did his guitar playing - certainly adept, but not over the top either. His band also included SY's drummer Steve Shelley, who set a good pace, Alan Licht on guitar and Irwin Menken on bass. Ranaldo showed a different side to his musical persona.