must have known he was already loved when he emerged on the Doug Fir stage to see a packed house, but that didn't stop him from bribing the audience.
“They're as big as your head,” the songwriter said of the massive cookies he baked prior to the show and plopped next to the merch booth selling his new album, A Bird in the Opera House
Jaina wasn't the only one debuting a new album Friday night. Future Historians opened the show with songs from their new effort, If You Slip Into the Fog
. The group plowed through its set of folksy, rootsy pop gems like old pros, offering a mastery of the material while showing that underneath the group's mellow exterior lurks a monster. That's thanks to frontman Dave Shur
—also of bubbly pop trio the Crosswalks—whose keen ear for melody and intricate verbosity is the band's strongest merit. Drifting over plucky banjo and slide guitar, Shur's is the kind of songwriting that instantly lodges in the brain like a bur. Even on somber songs, there is a sense of delight and childlike wonder to his bounding wordplay that comes full circle on tracks like “Good Life,” which hides giddy themes of sex tapes and rock tours, and the aptly named “Ooh Ooh,” with its bouncing sing-along onomatopoetics. Even on a cover of Neil Young's “L.A.,” the Historians managed to sound like something wholly original and thrilling, a combination of easy-to-swollow pop, roots Americana, and the poetic edge of the most traveled folk heroes gone slightly batty.
Following a set by loungy siren Sallie Ford
, Jaina took to the stage looking as he frequently does—a little sad, and very well dressed. After mentioning the cookies (which prompted an audience exodus to the merchandise table), Jaina explained that, despite the bill promoting “and his band,” and despite a sea of instruments in front of him, his supporting players were unable to join him for the evening. He then began to play a very soulful and morose version of Mary Poppins'“Chim-Chim-Cheree,” which had the audience swaying hypnotically, but looking rather confused at the empty stage.
But Jaina, ever the jokester, proved to be full of shit, and thank god. About halfway through the song, out of the blue (though somewhat expectedly), the stage filled with eight other musicians, who took up instruments almost instantly and turned the kiddie song into a freaky gypsy jazz number, with Jaina crooning “In this whole world there's no happier bloke,” with a knowing grin on his face.
For the next hour, the group played songs mostly from A Bird in the Opera House
, with the band following Jaina's lead while furthering the gypsy vibe and complementing his sparse instrumentation with bursts, filling the air with a pair of violins, horns, clapping, clarinet and guitars.
Jaina's a unique kind of crooner. His voice is strained and imperfect, yet angelic and soothing, making it easy to identify as he sings of travels to distant lands like Detroit, Cincinnati and North Carolina. On tracks like the roots-country-infused stomper “Sleep Child,” his voice soars into the stratosphere and back to the ground
. Oftentimes, there are pangs of Ennio Morricone beneath the surface, while other times there's an ancient troubadour hidden beneath his young face. If one were forced to peg Jaina with a genre (which we writers often do), it would be roots, but there's just so much more going on under the surface: something primal and refreshing, jazzy and foreign and bouncy. In short, Jaina's live show was bloody exhilarating.
A huge part of that is thanks to the entire army of musicians on stage, which appeared as (and likely were) a group of friends hosting a party for Jaina. Seldom do you see a concert where the musicians are having so much fun—ribbing and riffing off each other while maintaining a playful demeanor that lifted the entire experience.
This was a direct contradiction to the preceding set by Sallie Ford. A siren with a piercing and beautiful voice whose sound is lodged somewhere in the middle of Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Waits, Dusty Springfield and local group Y La Bamba
, Ford herself looked like she was having a fantastic time performing to the at-capacity crowd. Her supporting band, however, looked almost upset about being on stage. Maybe it was a bad night. Maybe there was a flu endemic, or maybe the group had its nerves jangled by so many faces in the crowd, but for whatever reason, the band's demeanor did not match the fiery and amazing sound that was coming from the stage. Luckily, the music spoke for itself, and the charming Ford carried it.
But with Jaina and his crew, the music and sounded like a lively celebration, particularly in the encore, and the musicians were giddy. With the new material covered in the hour long set, the songster asked the audience for requests, as well as his band members, including violinst Nathan Langston, who flew out from New York for the release show. “Singing the Devil's Tune” turned out to be a full on rocker hidden in a peppy dance-pop jacket, while the swaggering “Battleground” damn near blew a hole in the roof, with the crowd pumping fists and singing along
By the end of the evening, the near-sellout crowd had thinned out pretty well, making what had previously been a packed floor seem more like a cozy house party. Everyone seemed to acknowledge that sentiment, humming and swaying. With friends like Jaina's, good music is a guarantee. But as the musician released A Bird in the Opera House
, he somehow managed to make everybody in the crowd feel like a friend as well. But despite the crowd's satisfaction, there remained something prophetic about Jaina's odd choice of an opening song. For a brief moment in time, you'd be hard pressed to find a happier bloke.
Sallie Ford & the Sound OutsideSpace
Photo of Jaina's band taken in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It's not current but doesn't it look like the gang is having fun?