Last Night: Jessica Lea Mayfield, Ferraby Lionheart and The Naptime Shake at Dada

Jessica Lea Mayfield, Ferraby Lionheart and The Naptime Shake
July 26, 2011

Better than: the movie Lionheart.

Jessica Lea Mayfield's career has something a storybook feel to it, given that she was essentially raised on a tour bus (she started performing with her family's One Way Rider band as an 8-year-old), started writing songs at age 11 and was "discovered" by The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach a few years back after he stumbled upon her Myspace page.

Oh, and she's 21 years old, too.

Kind of a charmed situation, no? Funny, then, that Mayfield's reputation as a country-indebted singer-songwriter hinges on the fact that much of her songs focus on sad subject matter. It's an interesting juxtaposition, no doubt.

In many ways, during her headlining performance atop a nice bill at Dada also featuring Los Angeles' Ferraby Lionheart and Dallas' own The Naptime Shake, this juxtaposition was on full display.

For starters -- and, not to dwell on this, but it was an impossible thing to shake -- there was the look of both Mayfield and her band.

It was a little odd, actually; Mayfield wore her hair brown and in a very Patridge Family shape, while also donning fake eyelashes and braces on her teeth, barely looking the way she's so often presented. To her immediate left, her guitar player -- an incredibly skilled performer deserving of high marks on both his tasteful complementary playing and his gorgeous, pedal steel-like tones -- wore a striped black-and-white referee's jersey, a whistle around his neck and a white baseball cap with monster eyes drawn on its flipped-up brim. With the rhythm section dressed unremarkably and sulking in the back behind these two regardless, it was tough not to be swept up and confused by the sight of this unrecognizable Mayfield and her axeman.

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If the aim was to give the audience something to watch and gawk at to cover up the band's otherwise stoic on-stage poses, they succeeded. But, thing is, it was also a distracting gambit, taking away from what really should have been a stoic, rather reverential affair.

That's what Mayfield's music calls for on record, and, keeping true to her album arrangements, the same was true of the songs performed at this show. Pulling in material somewhat evenly from both of her full-lengths, 2008's With Blasphemy So Heartfelt and this year's Tell Me, highlights from the 70-minute set included "Kiss Me Again" and "For Today," likely her two most well-known songs thanks to prominent TV and Starbucks compilation placements. The closest the set came to properly matching its visuals with its audio came when Mayfield performed alone on stage.

It was a welcome respite from the rest of the show, which found the guitarist goofing off (albeit somewhat endearingly) and blowing the whistle around his neck.

What it reeked off, though, was an artist who doesn't quite know what's on the horizon, and one who is still trying to figure herself out. Which is probably fair, given Mayfield's age and the advantages she's been afforded by her close relationship with Auerbach.

Shame, too, because if there's one thing that's universally accepted about Mayfield is that she's a prodigious songwriting talent with a bright future before her. The visuals just seemed like a way to cover up insecurities she has about her career. She hid it well enough.

"You liked the blonde hair?" she remarked with a smirk to an audience member by the small Dada stage that said something between songs about the matter to the singer. "My dad does, too."

So maybe she's trying some new things out. Cool. Better that than get complacent. But, sometimes, all an artist needs to impress is a guitar and a good song.

That's all Mayfield should've needed at this show.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I'm an admirer of Mayfield's work, but, I'll be the first to admit, my time spent listening to her music probably doesn't properly line up with all the attention she's received nationally in recent years; after enjoying this show, I'll probably dig a little deeper there.

Random Note: The Naptime Shake, who performed a phenomenal opening set that the crowd seemed to enjoy a great deal more than the touring Ferraby Lionheart, had a few new things on display at this show -- a couple new songs and new -to-the-fold drummer Tony Harper of Slobberbone. Both the songs and Harper were welcome additions.

By The Way: Ferraby Lionheart is the name of the dude in the Los Angeles band, not the name of the band that the dude is in. It's probably a stage name (right?), but, still, serious inquiry: Could you ever take a person seriously in real life after finding out that their name was Ferraby Lionheart?

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