Monday, 27 May 2013

Molly Sweeney at Casa del Popolo

Molly Sweeney + Josephine Foster  |  Casa del Popolo

                                                  PHOTOS |  VALERIA VEGA

It’s a warm spring evening and I’m swigging something dark and oaty from a pint glass. Sometimes Casa is a little rugged and edgy. Other times, it’s wild and inexplicably strange, like a mind-muddying nightmare you’re too curious to forget. Tonight, Casa is inviting and serenely beautiful. The delicate, charming sound of a piano flutters through the room like a bird, as the artists greet friends and weave their way through the crowd. It’s a sold-out show and the room is radiant with smiles and sincerity. There’s a row of tea lights across from the bar, and I find myself captivated by the way they cast a glow on the bold black frames mounted above them. A lone gust of wind breathes through the room, begging the flames to dance, and they yield, swaying in his wake.

Josephine is first to take the stage. Draped in shawls, she takes a seat at the piano and begins to play. An ethereal, lilting voice begins at the back of the room and joins Josephine before the audience. The juxtaposition of the two women makes for an experience that is as entertaining as it is musically gratifying. Foster has a hauntingly beautiful voice and seems reserved and demure, moving only to trade the piano keys for a guitar. The other musician, however, is barefoot and restless, playing a cello before abandoning it to have a go at the drum set, then perching herself on the back of a chair and hanging a tambourine off her feet. The tone of the set is eerie, but also absurd enough to feel a little surreal.

As Molly Sweeney and band ready the stage for their performance, I’m immediately charmed by the natural, easy chemistry between the band members.  Molly and the bass player (Jérémi Roy) met each other through a mutual friend eight years ago, and the drummer (Patrick Conan) was bandmates with Molly in Sam Shalabi’s 22-piece orchestra, Land of Kush. Sheenah Ko and her vibraphone, piano, and back vocals are the newest addition to the group. Martin Rodriguez, amazing guitarist and all-around cool guy, is unfortunately absent tonight. I’m still admiring Molly’s outfit (peasant blouse, crochet skirt, unfastened leather vest, and a killer pair of tough-looking boots - swoon) when she begins to sing. 

My brain registers the sentiment of her voice before the sound. Lamenting and forlorn, her voice has a highly emotive quality that’s dizzyingly intense.  She is, at once, dreamy and despairing, delicate and distressed. The duality of her voice lends itself to a very visceral sound, and the longer I listen to her, the more it begins to feel like someone’s pouring a thick syrup into the gears in my head. I’m beyond trying to make sense of the situation, astonished by the loveliness of the sounds of the instruments as they unfurl through the room and combine to swim into everyone’s ears. All I know is awe and contentment, and a sneaking suspicion that this must be how babies feel when they look upon their mothers’ faces.

Molly’s first instrument was a guitar (gifted to her by her brother when she turned 13), but throughout the course of tonight’s show, we also see her pick up a small ukulele-esque thing called a tiple (a 1930s folk instrument from the US, made famous by Ed Askew), and a custom-built chorded zither/autoharp. Her sound during the show is rendered richer and more vibrant by the contributions of her band. I have already pored over her first album, Gold Rings and Fur Pelts (2011), where her sound is sparser but more complex. A self-professed mythology nerd, Molly started the songwriting process for her first album with social situations, then drew on myths and storytelling techniques to make the tale more pertinent to a wider demographic. Of her older songs, Not Faithfull is this writer’s favourite, not only for the astounding range and caliber of her voice, but for the burned bitterness of the subject matter. She sings, “you always took my warmth for granted / you didn’t tend the seeds you’d planted / when we were young, you never noticed / but now you’re old enough to know this”, and it’s so easy to delight in the strange validation we seem to get when hearing our long-festering thoughts roll off the tongues of others. Later, when I bring up the caustic narrative, she laughs and remarks, “everybody likes hearing a little bit of anger in a song, because we can all identify with that to some extent. I’ve heard ‘I really want to send this to a specific person that I had a falling out with’, before”. (Song here, words here, for your evil, sassy needs.)

Molly Sweeney and band are currently working on the second album, recording at the well-renowned Planet Studios. She hopes to have it released by Spring 2014 (“there are so many little things to be a perfectionist about!”), but in the meanwhile, keep an eye out for live shows and a single! This is a gang of immensely talented artists, and I suspect their show might’ve added a dimension to my brain and melted the icy, icy exterior of my cold, unfeeling heart. 

That’s as good a testimonial as any, I think. 

Swoon with me: Superstar (feat. tiny adorable tiple).
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