Keren Ann, Bowery Ballroom, 6.4.07
The show was sold out by the time we arrived, early enough to catch the solo opening act, Jason Hart, who is Keren Ann's keyboard player. Hart's set consisted of excruciatingly corny C minus cabaret material which sounded like the demo button songs on a low-end Casio keyboard circa 1989. He broke the songs up with astonishingly long stretches of talk between tunes featuring the exact intonation and level of engagement of a public television fund drive pitch. To be fair, Hart sounded great as the keyboard player during Keren Ann's set: not everyone should be a front man. And if the idea was to have an opening act that makes the headliner sound good by contrast, this certainly worked. We did have to retreat to the downstairs area after three songs, where a quick scan of the crowd demographics revealed 75% attractive mid-to-late 20s couples.
Keren Ann was pretty much totally transporting from beginning to end. Call it sexual narcissism, but there are a handful of female vocalists who are capable of casting a spell over me wherein my normal critical apparatus is left either powerless or else mostly beside the point: she is one of these singers. When this happens it's like a giant dark wave of pathos that I have no control over moving from the stage through me and the rest of the audience across the room and back again for the duration of the concert.
Her set consisted of perfectly balanced, beautiful, gently melancholy pop tunes drawing from folk, jazz, and triphop. The songs from Nolita I recognized weren't reproduced with the exact feel of the album -- they tended to be a bit loser in interpretation and more relaxed rhythmically. I was impressed by the nonchalance of the arrangements and voicings, with the band sounding best when Keren Ann played picked cowboy chords on an acoustic guitar. She aligned the breathy quality of her voice with her melodies in way that produced alluring effects that had a nostalgic quality but also a deep run of unassuming empathy. The other songs must have been earlier or material off the new Blue Note CD, which I picked up at the show but haven't listened to yet. I'm going to wait to listen to it on my real stereo rather than rip it to the iPod and hear it in the smushed format first. I'm hoping the CD is half as good as this show was.