Sarah Jaffe With Josh Pearson Majestic Theatre, Dallas Saturday, August 23, 2014
As local artists go, few in the Dallas scene are as widely beloved as Sarah Jaffe. After the 2010 release of "Suburban Nature," it was almost a foregone conclusion that Jaffe was destined for a long career as an indie darling. And yet four years later, here we are: Outside of hardcore indie fans in certain niches across the country, Jaffe has yet to attract the broader national recognition that she so rightly deserves.
But Saturday night's show at the Majestic Theatre may have finally signaled a new era in Dallas' favorite sullen singer-songwriter's career. Just a few days after the release of Don't Disconnect, this show may have served as the last time you'll be able to see Sarah Jaffe in a venue this intimate. She felt just as at home on that stage at the Majestic as she did in the grimy venues that she frequented at the beginning of her career.
About an hour before Jaffe took the stage, there were still plenty of seats. Unfortunately for those latecomers, who eventually arrived just in time for Jaffe, they missed an incredibly intense and quiet set from former Dallasite Josh T. Pearson. You may remember Pearson from his band Lift to Experience, who disbanded shortly after releasing a critically-acclaimed album, or his enduring career as a solo artist.
Pearson is a sort of blend of Ray Lamontagne and Tom Waits with a pinch of Willie Nelson poured into the prototypical grungy hipster mold, even if he is playing country. If occasionally messy, his guitar picking was exceptional. I could have dealt without Pearson's insistence on tossing in semi-sexist sexual innuendo disguised as humor at the beginning of the set, but once he began to play his self-described "soft, sad love songs," all was forgiven.
Once Pearson was through, there was a palpable anticipation for Jaffe to take the stage. After a short re-set, she humbly took the stage in a venue that she was clearly honored to play. But if truth be told, the crowd was really who should have felt humbled. In that moment, we were guests in the house of Sarah Jaffe, who commanded the stage as thoroughly as any of the greats who had played there before her.
From the first track, it was clear that Jaffe was out to prove that she belongs in the big time. There is a poise, polish and professionalism in her stage presence that just didn't exist a few years ago, yet she remains eternally humble. It was clear that she had dreamt of playing at a place so iconic as the Majestic, but if anyone has earned their place amongst Dallas' most beloved musicians, it is her.
Being that this was an album release show, Jaffe mostly played tracks from Don't Disconnect. In "Some People Will Tell You," "Defense" and "Slow Pour," it is evident that she is no longer the soft singer-songwriter that she used to be. Now, Jaffe is evolving into a full-fledged pop star that is more evocative of Robyn and Tori Amos than any of the soft, coffee-house indie music that more closely resembled her previous work.
It was interesting to see how fans responded to an album that is markedly different from the releases that helped create such a dedicated local following. It was as if fans didn't care that they weren't hearing much from "The Body Wins" or "Suburban Nature." If anything, this proves how invested this music community is in seeing Jaffe succeed.
In this album, her third full-length release, Jaffe has fully matured into the artist that it's evident that she always wanted to be. There is a deep electro-pop influence on this new record, but it has done nothing to take the focus away from what actually makes Sarah Jaffe great. Ultimately, whether it's an acoustic guitar or a drum machine, the strong suit about this music has always been the lyricist and singer behind it.
Still, the electronic components were well-executed, especially among the Dallas and Denton all-star team she'd assembled to be her band for that night's show. Dentonite Robert Gomez played an impeccably tight show on the guitar, and the rapport between Jaffe and drummer Rob Sanchez was playful. On that stage, it was as if a group of friends who just happened to be incredible musicians had assembled to perform a show, and that is largely what made Saturday night so special.
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That, and Jaffe's incredible vocals, which somehow managed to outshine her lyrics. For the title track of Don't Disconnect, the lights went down to focus exclusively on Jaffe and her a capella performance of this incredibly powerful song. Even as Jaffe transforms her style to an orchestral, electro-pop sound, simplicity is still when she is at her best. For the duration of this performance, you could've heard a pin drop in that theater.
The final track, "Slow Pour," was a perfect conclusion to a set that was both technically and emotionally flawless. There were no missed notes, no breaks in the tone of the show. Even the light design was impeccable, and there were no points in the evening where you felt comfortable getting up to go grab another drink or loiter around the merch table. If you weren't sitting down and listening for those entire two hours, it is likely that you missed something great.
When Jaffe walked off the stage, there was a clear expectation of an encore from the crowd; no one made a move. They hadn't heard "Clementine" yet, and Jaffe was happy to oblige. Hearing her play this track, with Jaffe leading the way on her guitar, I remembered the first time I ever heard her play that song a few years back at the Granada. It sounded exactly the same as it did then, and I wonder if Jaffe will ever be able to release a track that will be more enduring in the hearts of her fans.
Her final track of the evening, "Leaving the Planet," almost seemed to be a metaphor. Dallas has been lucky to have Sarah Jaffe around for so long, and it is hopefully, finally time for her to move on to a world that is much bigger than North Texas. If you're leaving the planet, Sarah, please take us with you.