Concert Reviews

Over The Weekend: Sarah Jaffe at the Wyly Theatre

Sarah Jaffe, Bosque Brown
Wyly Theatre
February 12, 2011

Better than:
another show in another bar, as Jaffe so put it early on in her performance on Saturday night.

Once upon a time, she was a shy performer, perhaps too concerned with making any on-stage mistakes before her attentive audience. But that was a time long, long ago for local darling Sarah Jaffe. These days, Jaffe's once-apparent apprehension has given way to a calm confidence -- and understandably, given how capably she has taken the region by storm with her tender indie folk offerings.

Indeed, the local music audience has long swept up this young performer into its warm embrace, affording her not only the rare opportunity to consistently draw strong numbers to her shows, but also the chance to play rare one-off shows in nontraditional venues -- and to still pack these mothers out. Such was certainly the case on Saturday night as audiences packed the Arts District's Wyly Theatre, a somewhat small, but no doubt meticulously kept space normally used as a black box theater. But this show was more than just a chance to see Jaffe in a unique space -- although the Jaffe fans in the crowd, mouthing along with every lyric in the performer's song book, no doubt appreciated that much, too.

With a stage filled with various vintage lamps fitted with low-wattage bulbs to back-light the stage, this show sure felt like a bigger production than most area performances. And it was, of course. Lest it wasn't clear from the signs pointing out as much or the camera men filling the space, Jaffe made sure to remind her crowd a few times over the course of this performance that an ulterior motive was at play: Jaffe's Dallas-based label was filming this performance for future live DVD release.

Any fears that this show would come with added pretense, though, were lifted in the very early goings. After opening the night with some new material that follows the electro-pop trend Jaffe's been showcasing in her show opening for some time now, the proceedings of the night were halted by Jaffe having to tune her guitar -- the result, she shared with her crowd, of having dropped the instrument backstage just a few minutes before curtains.

"Sometimes," a somewhat frazzled Jaffe revealed, "shot goes very wrong."

In this case, however, it felt right: The moment was the tension-cutter the evening needed to thrive, as it very much would for the remainder of Jaffe's 90-or-so-minute set. The potentially stuffy setting was instantly squashed, replaced with a perhaps too-intimate feel. The Jaffe crowd is very much a proud set; maybe rightfully, and maybe not, this is an audience that feels an ownership over its performer, comfortable enough to shout out quips and conversational bits during lulls. These not-quite-interruptions were distracting to a degree, but nonetheless provided a fine look into Jaffe's on-stage growth: She spoke back to her crowd, deflected the shout-outs and charmingly disarmed them by apologizing that she couldn't quite make out the other end of the conversation she was being asked to maintain.

Backed by her capable band of remarkable area session players -- multi-instrumentalists Robert Gomez and Scott Danbom, violin player Becki Howard and drummer Jeff Ryan -- Jaffe's music, cliche as it might be to point out, did all the talking necessary on this night. And it spoke on new levels, too; sure, Jaffe performed, as expected fairly true-to-record takes on material culled from both her 2008 debut Even Born Again EP and her 2010 full-length debut, Suburban Nature, but her true statements came in the form of the new material proffered in this setting. Yep, Jaffe and her band performed no fewer than four new, as-yet-unreleased cuts on this night -- some familiar to audiences, some not -- and they were truly revealing takes, too.

While donning a very Robyn-esque 'do (and, at one point, even covering a Robyn track as well) Jaffe's new-material offerings showed an artist willing to break her own mold. And her new material appears to head in two separate directions from the tracks area fans have come to so enjoy: Some head in a more lo-fi, brooding direction; others find Jaffe exploring a distant, almost jj-ish electro-pop realm. New songs "When You Rest," "Nurture It" and "Halfway Right" very much fell along these interesting, ethereal lines, showing off a growth, but not altogether dismissing the intimate nature that's made Jaffe's material so endearing in the first place.

And the crowd, which has so dutifully adored all that Jaffe's ever released, very much seemed to enjoy these new directions.

Although, really, that much should be well expected at this point. Jaffe's theirs, and they're proud to have her, however she may be.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
If anything, I mostly want to dislike Jaffe at this point. I arrived in town just as she was starting to draw decent crowds, and, as such, I've, without a doubt, penned more words on her than any other performer, local or national, over that time. I'd like to say I'm getting sick of her, but I'm not. She changes things up at almost every show, offering up new arrangements on old crowd favorites. It's impressive stuff from a performer whose talent, at this point, can't really be disputed, I don't think.

Random Note: The Wyly is pretty awesome, dudes. With a main level of seats surrounding by three levels of balconies, it truly makes for a unique concert -oing experience, with crowds quite literally on top of one another. And, due to its theater use, it's got a kind of industrial feel, which was quite welcome. Here's hoping more shows are booked there in the future. Being in a nontraditional, more theater-utilized space, did seem to have an effect on the night's turnout, drawing a surprisingly middle-age crowd.

By The Way: Prior engagements forced me to miss Bosque Brown's opening performance, and man do I feel like I missed out. The good news? Mara Lee Miller and Co. appear to be performing around town with more regularity of late -- and, yes, that's a very good thing, as Miller's vocals are quite possibly the best the region boasts. Quite the treat, then, when Miller and bandmate Jeremy Buller joined Jaffe and Howard for their Robyn cover. Here's hoping there's more where that came from, too; while there are many differences between their vocal styles, Jaffe and Miller's voices intertwined gorgeously on that track, blending together for deeply rich harmonies. It was tough to tell where one voice ended and the other began -- a treat I hope future audiences get to share.