Given the delicacy of Alela Diane’s newest material, the Old Church, with its gently sloping walls and towering heights, is the ideal venue for her to perform in. The 131-year-old edifice cups every note with a padded hand. Opener and musical co-conspirator Holcombe Waller seemed keenly aware of the wonderful acoustics at play, singing in soft melodic, howls and beautifully annunciated verses. He even made a Dave Matthews song sound elegant, though he didn’t admit the source of his cover until completing the song (“for fear of the crowd not liking it,” he said).
"Delicate" describes Diane’s About Farewell, but so does strength and stark honesty. The record dwells on past blunders but sails forward musically to the tune of lush piano, fluttering guitar and Diane’s ever-so-sandy voice. The result is a haunting declaration of middle-age (or close to it) via folk, made all the more transformative played before a giant pipe organ in one of the city’s grandest venues.
Waller played conductor during Diane’s set, engineering a highly emotive foundation through a three-piece string section. The audience seemed spellbound—whether by Diane’s commanding presence or the intricacies of the Old Church itself—processing every note silently. In “The Way We Fall,” Diane took on a Vera Lynn quality, fortifying her lengthy vocal notes to create a song worthy of a rich cinematic montage. “You never know when it’s the last time” she sang. Simple sentiment, but damned powerful from a creaking pew.
In “Nothing I Can Do” and “Hazel Street” Diane was chased by ghostly background vocals. Her metronomic guitar picking added tension, like the ticking of grandfather clock. As a countrified, stoic Cat Power, Alela Diane and band matched the unshakable beauty of the Old Church, leaving us torn about whether or not hardship ought to strike the Portlander again.
All photos by Mark Stock.