Shannon Wright / Thalia Zedek / Last Town Chorus – Southpaw (Brooklyn, NY)
“I’ve never seen anyone open their mouth that wide,” one suitably stunned patron says of Shannon Wright, and it’s true. When Wright reaches for one of the bellowing climaxes that pepper her idiosyncratic lullabies and folk-drone anthems, she throws her mouth ajar in a Munchian gape that can be a little unnerving.
But then, she’s never been interested in making audiences comfortable. On her albums (she’s touring in support of Over The Sun, her fourth full-length), she come across as an off-kilter avant-folkie, with cryptic lyrics and enough noise to make sure you don’t file her next to Jewel. In concert, though, she’s an entirely different story. She herky-jerks across the stage in a kind of modified, militant duck walk, high-kicking her long legs in time with her snap-crackle fingerpicking.
Wright’s guitar playing falls somewhere between lead and rhythm, carrying shards of melody on top of steady thumping. Accompanied only by the torrential Christina Files on drums, and sometimes completely solo, Wright onstage is something like a one-woman parade. When she fell to the floor during a frenzied coda, arching her back, rolling around and flailing at her strings, the packed club stepped back for a second and then erupted in roars. The crowd came to see an eclectic singer-songwriter, but they got a bona fide guitar hero.
That Wright was politely demure between numbers, restricting her audience chatter to small smiles and quiet thank-yous, only heightened the exorcistic drama of her performance. The songs themselves remained knotty and elliptical; they are sometimes pretty and often bracing, but rarely tuneful in any conventional sense. Heard live, though, they become just vehicles for their author, excuses for Wright to move and yell and incantate.
Wright was well-matched on the triple bill by her two openers. Thalia Zedek is arguably one of her forebears, having explored art-roots terrain of her own in Come while Wright was still indie-rocking in Crowsdell. Zedek’s particular channel has always been the blues, although recently she has also experimented with country tangents and even torch songs.
Violist David Michael Curry, who performed with her on this night, gives her songs a mournful lilt reminiscent of some of Carla Bozulich’s recent work. And like Bozulich, Zedek can be disarmingly melodic before disintegrating into squalls of feedback and crashing cymbals.
Her gruff voice, meanwhile, is none the worse for her years; it’s where her music most clearly resonates with the blues. She’s been recording for well over two decades now, and it’s not hard to imagine her continuing to age with the rough grace of the genre’s more traditional journeymen.
The night’s most effortlessly pleasant set came from Brooklyn’s Last Town Chorus, performing as a trio (and sometimes foursome) led by the engagingly chatty Megan Hickey. A quietly lovely singer in the mode of Cowboy Junkies maven Margo Timmins, Hickey also drives the band’s sound with her lap steel playing. The instrument’s country-folk associations created a nice tension with the urban romanticism of Hickey’s songs. And her playing, alternately atmospheric and stinging, aptly set the stage for an evening of singular guitar-slingers.
That all three happened to be women, and that it was a group of teenage girls who were whooping from stage left later in the evening at every note of Wright’s fuzzbox geometry, seemed not so much notable as perfectly natural.