Sage Francis, backed by several musicians, brought the fervor of his new album, A Healthy Distrust to the Bowery Ballroom Wednesday night. Through the one and a half-hour set, Sage entrenches the audience with his visions, moving through politics, personal space, and gripping commentary in a pace meant to stir.

Sage began his set under a dim red light, as a pulsating beat projected under the blare of a stoic narrative voice from an old film, declaring that “Sage”, by “analyzing the past, could project into the future.” While glaring heatedly into the hearts of the audience, Sage, partly concealed by an overgrown beard and jumpsuit, launches into The Buzzkill with a verbal assualt on apathy and the state of contemporary politics. He makes it clear that the flattery of the introductory audio samples hold true, as he cynically decries, “Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free? Take them back. Your homeless tempest-tossed to me? Take them back.” Sage heaves his lines to the crowd backed by band members matching his abrasive manner with production including guitar, drum-machine and back-up vocals.

Yet the abrasiveness gives way to moments of seeming delicacy. On the guitar-led Sea Lion, where the folk-like chorus peals as Sage peels off strips of himself, only to rebuild and thicken his skin – “I took it upon myself to crush it up and distribute the dust… build another castle out of the sand. Break it down and then get into the saddle again.” However, the resilience is marked with strains of past-doubts as Sage questions his role as singer and performer, “piano man got a checkered dance floor to grace and a painful look on his face.” The result is a breathtaking rendition as Sage paces the stage, the song moving at an urgent pace while the stirring lines hang in the air.

Sage continues his exploration of the intimate in Agony in Her Body, where he unearths the hidden troubles that eat away at both him and his partner; their tumor-like “agony”. The lines are estranging but compelling, almost perverse in their nakedness as he details their condition, “Untreated wounds through repeated moons are seeds soon to develop in your needy womb. Your feeble, ill cocoon.”

Sage makes it a point to explore and further his songs in their live frame, and with Bridle, he and band achieve something that was only hinted at by the song in its original recorded form. Building off the lush melancholy of a piano, a guitar is layered atop, and the soft crooning of his back-up vocalist brings the song to a new climatic level. Sage extends his verse and repeats the ending passage over the tumultuous buildup of drums and guitar work as it peaks to a close.

Sage leaps back onto political ground with his powerfully charged spoken word performance of Slow Down Gandhi, as he fiercely reproaches those who voice objections without committing to their ideals; “Who can pen a hateful threat but can’t hold a sword? It’s the same who complain about the global war but can’t overthrow the local joker that they voted for.” His icy glare travels across each face of their audience, engaging all with eye contact, making them his target. The absorption is only furthered under Sage’s steely look; witnessing his performance entwines us with his lyrics and his self, resulting in an extraordinarily personal, yet intimidating experience.