By Jim Schutze
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Here we are, sitting in a church in Denton, watching Sarah Jaffe perform before a no-shit-Sherlock adoring audience—every single pew in the place completely full—and all I'm wondering is how no one ever figured out that a stunt like this would draw a crowd so big that people would be pushing up against the entrance of the room just to sneak a peek in.
Come on, now: For a few years—she only swept our Dallas Observer Music Awards in 2008 as a 21-year-old, no big deal—the 23-year-old Jaffe has been charming the pants off area audiences with her lost-in-the-world, building folk yarns, performing the types of shows that would cause lesser scribes to write things like "Jaffe sure took that crowd to church on Friday night!," exclamation point included and all. (OK, full disclosure: That was my original lead for this piece.)
So, really, it was almost laughably unsurprising when, some 35 minutes into Jaffe's Friday evening show in the gorgeous main hall at St. David's Episcopal Church in Denton, a fan five rows from the back of the room was seen silently singing along to Jaffe's "Clementine," her head titled back and eyes closed, looking like—and here's where it gets a little trite—she was praying to some higher power. Never mind the fact that this is an unreleased song from the singer-songwriter, who, to this day, has released only her 2008, six-track Even Born Again EP for public consumption.
Later this year, the full-length album containing that song, plus a host of others that Jaffe has been performing around town for some time now, will finally see the light of day, courtesy of the Dallas-based Kirtland Records, home already to the Toadies, Smile Smile, Austin favorite Bob Schneider and, oddly enough, the back catalog for Bush. No date's been set yet for the album—sometime by summer is all Kirtland's revealed about the release of the disc, called Suburban Nature—but rest assured, it will be among the most popular local releases of the year. Because, let's face it, Sarah Jaffe's still got the DFW music scene by a string, even if 2009 seemed to see a little less of her performing around the region than 2007 and 2008 did. Audiences still adore her, and rightfully so. Hers is a heartbreaking brand of soft folk-rock: confidently wavering, effortlessly intricate and brilliantly delicate all at once.
Counted among her biggest fans: Midlake guitarist Eric Pulido, who, along with Andy Odom, the bassist for the similarly Denton-based The Hope Trust, put Friday's show together and invited Jaffe and the rest of this bill (which included fellow Denton-based folkies Robert Gomez and Seryn) to perform at his regular place of worship. That much also explains why Jaffe will be touring Europe starting this week in support of Midlake, and why, last Tuesday night, Jaffe was in Little Rock, Arkansas, doing the same, opening up for Pulido and his band as it toured the Southeast for a warm-up tour in anticipation of its upcoming February 2 release, The Courage of Others.
Of course, in Little Rock, there was an obvious difference in the audience: No one knew Jaffe's name. The crowd didn't come to the city's Revolution Room to see her. They'd come to see the headliners. And yet, before Midlake took the stage, there Jaffe was, performing a slightly more rocking set than the one she'd later offer up in the church, and winning over new listeners in the process, just as she's done for years locally.
If there was a flaw in this Little Rock performance, it was a relatively minor one: namely, that Jaffe, who, by the end of her set, saw a portion of the crowd push up against the stage, staring up at her admirably, failed to ever introduce herself to a crowd clearly interested in her name. In fact, the only time her name was brought up on stage on Tuesday night was when, after introducing her backing band of Robert Gomez, Jeremy Bueller and Jesse Chandler, Jaffe tried immediately launching into her next song—only to be interrupted by Gomez, who apparently figured it worthwhile to announce her presence on stage as well.
The Kirtland Records team, which had flown out to Little Rock via private jet to see the show—and only decided to do as much earlier that afternoon, go figure—didn't seem all that concerned. Self-promotion's an easy fix, after all. It can be taught. And, moving forward in preparation of Suburban Nature's release, it surely will be. But finding an artist who can make a crowd full of people so quiet they were scared to cough for fear of breaking the silence, as was the case at the church on Friday?
Why, that's the kind of thing labels pray for.
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