London – The Victoria in Dalston, East London is one of those little gems of live music venues that the city specialises in; a traditional pub with the added excitement that you enter the modestly proportioned, black walled gig room via a bookcase. Harry Potter, eat ‘ya heart out. This particular night, it was hosting Flock of Dimes, the solo project of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, on the last leg of a short European hop, before heading back to the U.S. for a lengthy tour.
It was a night for curious monikers. Opening for Flock of Dimes was fellow American Woodson Black aka Hauk from The Berkshires, Massachusetts. Declaring he was pleased to be back in London, he credited the city with inspiring much of his creativity. The initial impression was that this earnest young man had been listening to too much Daughter. Indeed, the first four self-penned songs in his set had such similar chord structures, I found myself mouthing words from Elena Tonra’s seminal song, “Youth.” Still, there was much to admire in Hauk’s sincerity and downbeat romanticism, and his final two songs, a cover of Citizen Cope’s “Sideways” followed by his own “Sister,” showed off some different guitar chords and showcased his high, breathy vocal. Introspection has its place, but the set might have benefited from a reason to be more cheerful.
In contrast to Hauk’s workman aesthetic, Jenn Wasner took the stage in her Op Art patterned jumpsuit, designed by Baltimore textile artist April Camlin - the look of which reminded me of our recent holiday, which included a trip to the Museum of Illusions in Zadar, Croatia. To compound this visual playfulness, Wasner strapped on a signature Reverend electric guitar with the same monochrome design. As she moved to the music thus axed, it hinted to viewers that a trip to the opticians might be imminent. If the visuals impressed, the music simply took off and flew as Wasner ran through her debut Flock of Dimes album, If You See Me, Say Yes, with great panache. She played with the track order, but the show maintained the album’s underlying synchronicity. The set was huge fun for both performer and audience.
Cueing her own pre-recorded backing tracks and seamlessly combining these with playing live keyboards, guitar, or bass and topping with consistently impressive vocals, Wasner’s one-woman show was a delight from start to finish. The house PA also played its part in delivering a solid, dynamic mix. Her double-tracked vocal effect – in which the second vocal is just a tiny bit behind the first – was introduced on “Birthplace” and reprised selectively over the evening, but never overdone. Wasner followed it with “Joke Song,” which she nimbly described as “a song about travelling, falling in love, and the great cosmic joke of existence.” Playing live bass with considerable agility, the singer provided perfect propulsion astride waves of melodic synth.
The changing seasons are invoked in “Everything Is Happening Today”- a song which pitches Jenn Wasner somewhere in Imogen Heap territory vocally and instrumentally. It’s a nearest though not wholly accurate yardstick on a night which increasingly points to Wasner’s originality as an artiste. The singer clearly enjoyed herself on stage, smiling and looking heavenwards, while the crowd returned warm applause. A minor sound criticism surfaced in the opening to the ghost story “Apparition,” as the bass synth boomed, but it was a momentary lapse on a stellar night; the guitar figure that emerged towards the end of the song was especially hypnotic. As the set progressed, it became hard not to pick out every song, but “Semaphore” was a particular stand out. Lyrically dealing with communication issues, the sheer quality of the songwriting enveloped you in waves of contrasting optimism.
Whether rocking out on “Ida Glow,” spinning melodic webs on “Given/Electric Life,” or even turning a little Japanese on “Minor Justice,” there was always a spark to ignite the crowd’s growing approval. Wasner was equally appreciative of the night’s turnout. Letting it slip that she played to just eight people in Paris the previous night, she thanked the decent-sized audience for coming out “even on a Tuesday,” offered them some wine from her rider that she couldn’t take back on the plane, and announced she couldn’t wait to take off her stage shoes and even the jump suit. There was no striptease though – just two charming covers to close the evening: Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia” (“a song I love and yet terrifies me on a deep primal level”) tenderly delivered with clean guitar and voice, and “One Day In Paris,” by Canadian band Martha and The Muffins, illuminated by keyboards and guitar and vocals that touched a nerve of vulnerability.
“These are all the songs I have,” declared Jenn Wasner. And it was plenty.
Flock of Dimes is set to tour the U.S. and Canada. Wasner’s first ever North American headlining tour commences on 14th October and ends on 12th November in Austin, TX. Details and tour dates can be found on the Flock of Dimes Facebook page.
Photography by Kevin England
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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