I heard a number of folks griping about how “poorly advertised” this Mazzy Star show was. Yet on a rainy Sunday night, the Crystal Ballroom was sold out, with a capacity crowd of 960 women and 40 guys huddling for warmth, and a chance to hear “Fade Into You” performed live.
Mariee Sioux kicked things off, her voice and guitar accompanied by a drummer who used his mallets sparsely over their dreamy, indie-folk. It wasn’t mind-blowing, but did seem an appropriate act to bill with Mazzy Star.
My girlfriend and I joked about not needing earplugs for this gig (duh), yet Entrance Band not only drew our fingers to our ears—that guy’s voice sent us scrambling to Lola’s Room downstairs. Unfortunately the music was being piped down there as well. No escape from Guy Blakeslee’s annoying yowl. Gals in the crowd beside me were giggling and comparing him to Neil Diamond. Ahem.
Finally, the stage was set for Mazzy Star, though there was a rather long delay between bands. Also, the back entrance from Lola’s Room was closed off, leading me to speculate that Hope Sandoval was “having a moment.” Of course there’s no way to know, but eventually the band took the stage to rapturous applause from the sea of people who have made-out and/or conceived to the band’s platinum opus, So Tonight That I Might See.
I want to say that I am a fan of Mazzy Star, having heard them first in ’94 when the buzz was getting too loud to ignore. The band’s sense of minimalism is grand, and its balancing act between loud music played softly or soft music played loudly—the former on record, the latter live—is truly brilliant, and has spawned a subgenre full of imitators that struggle to get it right. The guitars sounded great. And Hope looked to be in good health, standing in front of a small rack of electronic gear, gripping a tambourine and singing with her eyes closed. The drummer wore sunglasses, doing his best Doors impersonation. The side musicians (organ, pedal steel, bass) played impeccably.
So what kept this show from being a revelation?
First off, the room was dark. Very dark. To the point where the performers were little more than silhouettes. The bass player actually tripped on his way off stage before the encore. Fine, so the band prefers to let its music speak for itself. But then, why bother playing live? In lieu of anyone getting a good look at Hope or her band, there were visual projections shot onto a massive red curtain. The imagery was elemental, ranging from dark blue smoke to dark purple clouds, black and white shots of water, dark grey stone.
We were close enough to catch the number of occasions when Hope shot dirty looks at her band, particularly the drummer. I couldn’t tell you exactly what the issue was, but I will level some criticism at their touring soundman. A room like Crystal Ballroom is a giant wooden cave with springs in the floor. There is no good reason to use that much digital reverb on a drum set like that. The rest of the band sounded natural and elegant. But juxtaposed against the artificial drum sound and Hope’s muffled vocals, the mix that left much to be desired.
Ultimately, the band played a nice retrospective of songs from its four-album discography. “Fade Into You’ appeared mid-set, but didn’t really feel any more special than any of the other tunes. And perhaps that's a testament to the general quality and consistency from Mazzy Star's body of work. The only real abandon came from David Roback’s guitar during more experimental pieces, like the title track from So Tonight That I Might See.
Overall, it was a fine performance from an important band. It was just disappointing that Hope’s only acknowledgement of the audience was when she said “thanks,” between songs—not exactly gracious treatment of your thousand biggest fans in any given city. I hate to see legendary bands merely to check them off my list. But that’s basically what happened.