Tonight my wife and I drove to the McKinney district of uptown Dallas to the Bend Yoga Studio. The visionary owner of this studio converts it to intimate concert space on the weekend evenings. Tonight's headline attraction was Issa, which is the name Jane Siberry adopted 18 months ago.
We met our friends Scott and Donna at the show. We all arrived early, without having had dinner. We had only a few minutes before the concert. Fortunately, Donna knew of Wild About Harry's, a great hot dog place nearby, where my hot dog and sauerkraut was nearly perfect. We had a great meal, and made it to the concert in time.
I've been a Jane Siberry fan for years. I'm also a huge fan of the way that, well prior to Radiohead's great work in this area, Issa took control of her recordings and made them available on a "pay what you choose" basis. Her transition to the name Issa was accompanied by selling her home and most of her possessions, and adopting a more simple lifestyle. I tend to be a bit skeptical about people who change their names altogether, as this reminds me too much of my wife's college friend who sent us a charming postcard from Costa Rica saying "My name is Bella", only to have it turn out that she had a whole new first and surname, and it was verboten to call her by any other. I am all for pseudonyms and performance names, but I am also all for people owning up to the heritage of their own names and their own foundations. I am certainly a proud prisoner of my background. I am not docrrinaire, though, and people of whom I am fond use names other than their own all the time. Some of them even keep weblogs. One of "them odd name users" is me.
Bend Studio is an amazing place, an upstairs room which holds 90 or so. One removes one's shoes to spare the floor, and one is never more than a few feet from the performer(s). Candles burn in small alcoves, and people listen to the music and do not speak during songs.
Vancouver's Adrienne Pierce opened the action. She was a songwriter who played quietly on her electric guitar. Her songs were pleasantly witty and mildly ironic. Rather than coming off as arch or self-obsessed, the Scylla and Charybdis of singer-songwriters, she seemed like the sort of person with whom one could drink mint tea and discuss favorite aunts and dates gone wrong. She played four songs which were each well-crafted. She poked a bit of fun at herself when she used the word "out" and it came out with an more American accent rather than a stereotypic BC accent. She was easy to like and very easy on the eyes. She is a great songwriter, and although she sings and performs well, I suspect she would benefit from her own personal Joan Baez. If she posted an a capella at ccmixter, it would be remixed 20 times.
Issa played next with a keyboardist and a bass. Her performance was an unalloyed pleasure. I had wondered if her performance name transition and stance on leaving behind possessions and consumerism would render her new songs a bit preachy or stereotypically new age. My speculation was answered, because her new songs had all the whimsy, irony and sense of wonder of her "Jane Siberry" work, and a sense of vision. As with all her work, juxtaposed religious imagery, social conscience, wit and earthiness made a delicious hotchpot stew.
Virtually every song until the encore was a new and unreleased song. For this artist, this was just as it should be. Nobody felt the need to grasp a nearby candle and call for their favorite Siberry song of old. The story of each song was vivid, easy to follow and great fun. Some use terms like "performance artist" in relation to her work, and there is one sense in which this is a little true. There is another sense in which it is too narrow, though, as simply "performer" suffices.
At one point, she explained that she found 3 things important in writing her Issa songs:
1. that each one have percussion that could be played by a Muppet band;
2. that each one have a guitar part a 9 year old would want to play, and
3, the most important thing of all was....
and then she yawned, and began the next song.
During the show, she asked everyone in the audience to think of three words to describe our town, to give her an understanding "as a musical traveler". She and the band played about 90 minutes. Her keyboardist was exquisite, and the bass player roving and fun.
She played two songs in the encore, including her "signature" tune, "Calling All Angels", which, sadly, has for me both a sense of transport and a memory of Los Angeles public radio fund raising drives it soundtracked. I think the best tribute I can offer, though, is that I would not have minded a bit if she had played none of her recorded material. Her new material was that good.
After the show, the audience huddled in the front part of the studio, chatting, waiting to buy CDs, and the like. Issa stopped to chat with my wife, our friends Scott and Donna, and I. She asked us about our 3 words. Donna's words were "big", "hair" and "shopping". Scott's were "This ain't Louisiana", and my wife's were "soulseekers in purgatory". Donna explained our big hair culture, and my wife explained about our cookie-cutter suburbia. The non-Louisiana nature of Texas required no explanation.
When it came my turn, my words were "hayfields preserve prairie". I explained how when the anglos came to north Texas, they found a gorgeous prairie filled with flowers.
They promptly tilled it into farmland. Only small portions of prairie remained--the hayfields. Prairie makes the best hay, and farmers left some prairie untouched as hayfields. The gorgeous prairie that remains is the small remnant hayfields. For me, this symbolizes something about how the focus on simple work saves the most gorgeous flowers. Issa thanked each of us, and we thanked her for her show.
The CD table worked on the "pay what you will" philosophy. Adrienne Pierce personned the CD table. I asked her which of her two CDs was her favorite. She said she liked them both, but that the first was on CDbaby while the second was only available on itunes.
I told her I would get the second, as I buy from CDbaby, but usually prefer not to buy from itunes as opposed to the other download services. I put a 20 into the slot on the little converted tissue box for deposits of money, and then did similarly as to Issa's CD and the piano player's CD. Because the turnout had only been about 60, I thought that
buying each CD would make the concert economics a bit more palatable.
Tonight was a night of hope, artistry, and hot dogs. Next time she tours, I will see if Issa will perform in our northern county.
Tomorrow I hike in the morning, and go, of all things, to a ball Saturday night.
My tuxedo still fits.