A roommate, a classmate and my favorite cat lady all bailed on our plan of going to see Mirah last Wednesday evening at SOhO, but I didn’t let it get me down. I headed downtown all by my lonesome to hear three very lovely ladies sing, banter, tell stories and giggle; and I can assure you it was an evening well spent.
Mirah, a K Records artist who has gained an impressive following over the course of her last couple releases, has played in Santa Barbara for the last three years in a row, and each year, she sounds completely different. I think maybe her connection to Rebecca and Josh of Isla Vista’s own Watercolor Paintings has allowed us this wonderful opportunity.
Speaking of Watercolor Paintings, I’m still adjusting to the idea of them playing with microphones, amps and being on stage, but regardless of my ideals, the band has completely come into its own in the bright lights. Many of the songs it plays now are fierce, aggressive and softened only by Josh’s goofy smile and Rebecca’s pseudo-meek look. The music has bite to it, and new songs like “Open Your Mouth,” “Indiana” and “Shower” resonate confidently and Rebecca’s voice couldn’t sound any clearer.
Josh has grown remarkably as a ukulele player and I think everyone in the audience gets a kick out of his shenanigans. Let me be the first to say I was there when these kids start appearing on Pitchfork in the future, or, even worse, have albums sold at Best Buy. But for now, Watercolor Paintings is still our little semi-secret.
Performing solo is difficult in today’s crowded climate of singer-songwriters, folk artists and coffee-shop troubadours. And to be honest, most of them are really boring. It isn’t their fault; I’m sure they are writing great tunes, but playing live is more than just baring your soul. We’ve all got one. I want to be moved, and I want to be entertained. After the show at SOhO, I found my new love and muse in Portland, Oregon’s (but originally France’s) Tender Forever.
Tender Forever is a moniker for solo musician Melanie Valera, whose music meets at the crossroads of sentimental bliss and sublime intimacy. Armed with a synthesizer, an iPod of backing tracks, guitar, ukulele (for covers exclusively) and a Wiimote, Melanie, with her impeccable dancing skills and even-more-impressive voice, stunned the entire audience. I was enraptured. She is a true performer in every sense of word, entertaining the crowd with stories of her Santa Barbara experience and getting hit on by a goth chick at a Justin Timberlake show, as well as a screening of a hilarious slideshow featuring photoshopped images of her grinding and making love to Beyoncé. When she feared she had accidentally killed her MacBook, she made us all join together in a prayer and a soulful rendition of “Lean On Me.”
Now, I’ve seen Mirah twice before, but Tender Forever was a hard act to follow. But like I said earlier about Mirah’s multiple appearances in Santa Barbara, she knows what to bring to the table with each successive appearance, honing her skills and fueling her image, legend and subtle charms.
Hot off the heels of her most recent album (a)spera, Mirah was joined onstage with a full-size band (guitar, violin, drums and miscellaneous-instrument guy). The theme was, in the artist’s own words, “to not be so silly,” but she couldn’t contain the smile on her face as the band rollicked and rolled to many of her new tunes.
Although rooted in that strange and beautifully cloudy brand of K Records folk (probably Phil Elvrum’s fault), Mirah has always straddled the line between Western flirtation and sensual Europeanisms. But Wednesday night, her Ennio Morricone fetish was in full force, as songs old (“Cold Cold Water,” “We’re Both So Sorry”) and new (“Bones and Skin,” “The Forest”) got an epic country-shuffle, rock ‘n’ roll treatment from the band.
In a complete about-face, as Mirah and crew came back out for an encore, they finally gave into “being silly” and played a disco version of “The Garden” from 2001’s Advisory Committee. Well, Mirah had that in her the whole night, and it was only more satisfying when she finally let it out.
So maybe exuberance was the theme of the show tonight because all the artists definitely did not have qualms about singing so joyfully. And nobody held back.