‘Brooklyn Boy’ and co. get the acoustics just right

It’s hard to find a minute to catch up with Kevin Devine after he finishes his set. Fans surround him from all sides, coyly asking for personalized autographs and flashing excited smiles as they take photographs next to the singer. As a Feb. 19 performance in the Rathskeller proved, it takes the venue closing down for the night to tear acoustic rock enthusiasts away from this emerging star.

“The fans connect in a way that’s not casual,” said Devine. “They’re very intense about the music, and I’m lucky that they’ve made such a strong connection. I love how passionate they are.”

The Brooklyn-based singer has been slowly gaining momentum ever since the release of his 2002 album, “Circle Gets the Square.” With a light, idiosyncratic voice and a knack for creating low-key but affecting acoustic arrangements, Devine’s music has become more polished with each new album.

Backed by Brian Bonz on percussion and Mike Strandberg on guitar, Devine played without a set list on Tuesday night at the College, but the impulsiveness seemed to benefit the show.

“He mixed new tunes like ‘I Could Be with Anyone’ and ‘Murphy’s Law’ in with old favorites ‘Protest Singer’ and ‘Cotton Crush,'” College Union Board member Sarah Oldfield said. “The crowd sang along with the hits, but welcomed the new material as well.”

“I basically played whatever came to mind,” Devine said. “There’s a responsibility in terms of pacing, but you don’t want to sacrifice the feeling of spontaneity either. I guess I like to switch things up.”

Musical talent aside, it is easy to see why Devine and his live show have found such a loyal fan base. His rapport with the Rathskeller crowd was warm, with some hints of dry humor setting up a nice contrast with his soft-spoken personality.

“He made jokes about Eickhoff, read off the Rat’s news ticker and even compared the Rathskeller to ‘The Max,’ the teen hangout spot in ‘Saved by the Bell,'” Oldfield said. “Kevin was constantly interacting with the crowd and making them laugh.”

Devine said the connection between the audience and himself came much easier due to the size of the venue.

“At places like these, people tend to focus on the songwriting more,” he said. “It’s definitely more intimate. I like playing these places when I’m alone.”

Although Devine has recently headlined a number of shows, he is well-known for opening for acts like Straylight Run and Brand New, whose singer, Jesse Lacey, is a friend of Devine’s and was in attendance last Tuesday night. Devine said he’s had a great time opening for bigger bands and that he realizes how important such opportunities are for his own career.

“(Opening slots) get more people out to see you when you’re playing as a headliner,” he explained. “It’s just what you have to do, you know? I’m lucky to have opened for guys who are really good friends of mine.”

Devine’s latest LP, 2006’s “Put Your Ghost to Rest,” was given a special re-release last year by Academy Fight Song, a collective of Brooklyn-based indie acts, and a new album is expected in late 2008. As for now, though, he will continue to tour worldwide, including stops in Australia and at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Devine addressed his rising status in the music industry as modestly as possible. “I don’t try to think of where I’m headed,” he said. “I’m not trying to acquire a crew, or become a huge star or anything. I’m just lucky enough to be in this position right now. I’m lucky enough to make a living doing what I enjoy.”