Friday, February 29, 2008

taken by trees @ the roxy

Seven months ago, wedged into a sun-burnt and drunken festival crowd, I saw one of the first Taken By Trees shows. Admittedly, I already had her debut CD Open Fields crammed into my suitcase, purchased on a whim while getting off the metro a few days before. Some people reminisce with photographs, my nostalgia fuels playlists. Of course I was expecting to like the show; after all, she’s that ex-Concrete girl right?

I was not expecting to be so, well, taken. Amidst the louder acts of the day -- I had just had my eardrums rattled by the wonderful Electrelane, and afterwards would be subjected to the auditory water-boarding that is TV on the Radio -- Victoria Bergman’s sweet, childlike voice stuck in my memories.

Needless to say, Taken By Trees performing in LA, especially in light of Victoria’s noted apprehension about performing live, was a major, lovely surprise. The kind of major lovely surprise that has you rolling out of bed ten minutes before tickets go on sale, despite the fact you worked until almost five a.m. the night before –- lest you be deprived a chance to see her1.

Thankfully, Thursday night's performance at the Roxy lived up to my expectations, and even more importantly, my rose-colored memories.

Tapping into her softer side -- an obvious theme for the evening -- was opener White Hinterland née Casey Dienel. Supporting her new album, Phylactery Factory, Casey indulged in a series of jazzy quasi-confessional numbers, in between which she giggled and nervously whispered "incriminating stories about where she grew up": a dazzling east coast world filled with beached whales and teens skipping school to drive around in Model-Ts wearing brown plastic derbies. Despite strange sound issues that occasionally left me feeling more like I was at a drum recital with piano accompaniment, I couldn't help but be won over. I'm a push-over, it's true. Casey, and later Victoria, both played their final songs on ukuleles, a unique choice that neatly highlighted their unusual voices. Humm...Marylin Monroe, Mia Farrow, Casey Dienel and Victoria Bergman? Could it be that my lack of small, absurd stringed instruments is what's keeping me from properly expressing my pent up emotions and/or retroactively becoming a 1950s pin-up?

Taken By Trees took the stage after a brief video of - what else - trees? Normally, this broad move toward the literal would be cause for snark. (I'm a pseudo-intellectual, and a terrible person.) Here it simply served as a guarantee of truth in advertising and, I'm not ashamed to admit, I had goose-bumps even before the introduction ended. The night continued in that straight forward vein. Victoria's music, be it Concretes or Taken By trees, is striped of artifice and continually stirs up emotions that are hard to explain, but impossible to ignore. Case in point: I dare anyone to not find personal meaning in the lyric Hours pass like centuries/When you're waiting for a change/that will take you far away/from the you you are today2.

Watching Victoria preform is almost painful in its intimacy. Here is a woman, pouring out her heart, nervously fidgeting with her necklace and water bottle, stepping away from the microphone any time she's not singing. One is left with the feeling that emoting in front of an audience is the most difficult thing she's ever been asked to do, her very presence speaking to a desperate need to do so. It's captivating, compelling, and due to the sheer empathy it evoked, I found myself with a lump in my throat.

This isn't to say the Taken By Trees project is without a lighter side. Closing the set was the newest single, "Sweet Child of Mine". Part of me winces, knowing that this is by far her most high-profile song yet. But that part of me got drowned out by the plain ol' joy of hearing of such a sweet voice belt such an absurd song with that much conviction. Also sweet was the pause before the ukulele-tinged "Sunshine Lady" encore, when Victoria's best friend Anna took the stage, delivering what amounted to a multi-lingual love letter to her friend and Los Angeles as a whole -- stopped by Victoria's return to the stage to deliver a bear-hug as only best friends can. At this point, I can only assume most of us in the audience wanted to do the same.

1. Yes, I realize this is one of those moments rare moments when I naively assumed pop culture tastes fall in line with my own.
2. See? Told you so.

(photo Taken By Trees: Helena Blomqvist)
(photo White Hinterland: Tod Seelie)

mp3: "Tell Me (live)" by Taken By Trees
mp3: "Julia (live)" by Taken By Trees
mp3: "On The Radio (live)" by The Concretes
mp3: "Art Deco House (live)" by White Hinterland


Moih said...

I was there. I agree that the intimacy of the show was something to be admired, but, was it me, or the whole nervous little girl singing act Victoria performs is a mere gimmick that goes with the TBT's aesthetic? Alas, a gimmick I would enjoy to see any day of the week.

Katie cat said...

i love all of your musical commentary! and great supplemental images!