Sarah Jaffe With S1, Blue the Misfit and Sam Lao Trees, Dallas Friday, February 13, 2015
For many people, their first introduction to Sarah Jaffe was hearing "Clementine" performed in an intimate Denton venue like Dan's Silverleaf. After the release of Suburban Nature in 2010, people quickly crowned the soulful, soft-voiced Jaffe the Queen of Dallas Music. Five years later, that crown is still firmly atop her half-shaved head, but the artist that wears it is entirely different.
Friday night's show at Trees was not what anyone who was there was expecting, largely because no one involved really told us what to expect. It was announced beforehand that Jaffe would be debuting new tracks from her new project with hip-hop producer S1, but apparently no one got the message. Apparently, no one expected that Sam Lao, Blue, the Misfit and Jaffe were going to be performing a hip-hop show.
There was no format for Jaffe's first performance at Trees (at least not one that anyone could recognize), but the artists came out in the order that you would generally expect. Lao opened the evening, Blue, the Misfit came out second and then came Jaffe. What everyone did not expect, though, was the constant collaboration between the artists: all three performed solo and with one another. Put simply, it was fucking incredible.
In planning this show, Jaffe, Blue and Lao created something that was entirely unique, a show like no one had ever really seen here before. There were no openers or closers or pissing contests, only three of Dallas' best artists supporting each other and straight killing it. Each artist was equally on point, delivering three flawless sets that would have been worth the ticket price on their own. But together, they made a clear statement that Jaffe is no longer the artist she once was -- or at least not the one that our conceptions limited her to.
There are still some inklings of that folksy identity that made Jaffe famous. In an a capella rendition of "Don't Disconnect," she showed off her incredible pipes and that uncanny ability to quiet a room with a haunting song. On other tracks, though, like "Defense," the electronic sound and hip-hop influence that Jaffe has been pursuing over the last several years was incredibly strong. Despite the occasional technical difficulty (thanks computers!), Jaffe's set was near-flawless, and she was backed by some of Dallas' best musicians in drummer Rob Sanchez and Centro-matic's Scott Danborn on the keys. Saxophonist Clay Pritchard would later join for a few tracks.
With a live remix of "Revelation," Blue helped Jaffe (aka Yung Jaffe) transition into the more hip-hop driven portion of her show. As she debuted "Fool's Gold" and "Crossed My Mind" from the Dividends, her project with Grammy-winning producer S1, Jaffe demonstrated a very specific respect for hip-hop. There was none of Iggy Azalea's "vocal blackface" nor attempts at impersonating the swagger of women of color. For anyone who was skeptical of how Jaffe would handle this new phase of her career with a hip-hop producer, the answer is, a la Queen Bey Herself, "flawless."
A version of "Lover Girl" with Lao was a particularly high point of the evening, as was the aforementioned Blue remix of "Revelation." Together, Lao and Jaffe's equally strong but totally different voices combined into something that was pretty damn transcendent. If we're lucky, we'll hear recordings from these two together in the future. (And then Blue, the Misfit can remix them.)
What wasn't great, though, were the people who were visibly disappointed that Friday night's show wasn't just a three-hour long acoustic set. The venue was certainly packed, and the crowd at the front of the stage was deeply engaged, but around the edges, there were people who were ready for the "rap show" to wrap up and for Jaffe to pick up her acoustic guitar and perform "Clementine." They didn't get their wish.
They did, however, get to see a Jaffe that has fully come into her own -- and while the format of the show may have been unexpected, her creative direction has firmly been on this course for sometime now. Friday was merely a superb articulation of everything she's been building toward. In a performance of "Visions" from her new EP with Lao, Blue, and Zhora's Taylor Rea, Jaffe politely brushed off anyone who has tried to define what kind of artist they think she should be.
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Many critics and fans have not enjoyed this new Sarah Jaffe who sounds more like Robyn than the new-age Joni Mitchell that they want her to be, but they're acting like petulant children. In recording the music that she wants and not what the critics expect, Sarah Jaffe has finally transcended the former labels that defined her. And that is exactly what will make this next phase of her career so exciting.
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