Sarah Jaffe House of Blues Bronze Peacock Room April 15, 2011
According to singer/songwriter Sarah Jaffe's Twitter bio, she is the "first female in the world to ever play the acoustic guitar and sing her own songs."
Refreshingly, the Denton-based musician is clearly able to poke fun at her own profession, and for unfortunate but often due reason: acoustic songwriters are generally cast into an explicit and often limiting categorical pigeonhole.
Jaffe, a Dallas native, first made waves with her 2008 EP Even Born Again and released her debut full-length, Suburban Nature, last year, after signing with Kirtland Records. The album is a mostly acoustic collective exploring universal themes - love, loss, maturation, peril.
But in the first minute of Jaffe's performance Friday evening at the House of Blues' Bronze Peacock Room, the singer revealed she may have veiled more musical tricks up the sleeves of her chic coral blazer - which was almost as cool as her new, sleeker bleached bob.
The opener, Born Again's "Under" was the first hint that we might not be in for the typical humdrum "singer-songwriter" set. Jaffe, backed by guitarist Jeremy Buller and drummer Andy Young, began recording and looping layers of hauntingly strong vocals amidst reverbed guitar tones and an ominous bass-drum beat. Right off the bat, the set was surprisingly experimental.
"It's wonderful to be here," Jaffe announced. "I associate Houston with the many wonderful friends I have here, and you all look like wonderful people, too." As she began the new, unreleased "A Sucker For Your Marketing," a track on her forthcoming The Way Sound Leaves a Room EP, some of the crowd cheered in recognition - to Jaffe's genuine surprise. The intimate room may not have been full, but those in attendance were clear fans.
Affably and frequently addressing the crowd, Jaffe joked with her fans and shared insight into some of her tunes, including Suburban single "Clementine." "This song was written six years ago in a dorm room," she explained. "It was never intended to go anywhere, but it's the song many people seem to connect with most," she continued, further explaining that it was her mother who convinced her to record the song.
Evidently, she learned a lesson from her doubt: "It proves I'm sometimes an asshole who isn't always right!"
Jaffe's band bowed out as she tackled some solo songs, including Suburban tracks "Summer Begs" and "Nurture It." While she is clearly able to joke about the "singer/songwriter" profusion, if only via Twitter, Jaffe is simultaneously aware of approaching the genre with a conscious acknowledgement of the need to keep her catalogue and live act fresh.
She does this with a varied and well-rounded set list, trading full-band with solo songs, acoustic with experimental electric sets, and showcasing both old, new, and unreleased material. Because of her clear knack for offering such variety, she kept our attention all night.
Jaffe also impressed us with her sincere appreciation, thanking her crowd numerous times, as if she felt unworthy of our attention - which was close, and often respectfully too silent at times: "Did someone just get 'sushed' for coughing?," she asked, giggling and acknowledging her reverent crowd.
Suburban's "Before You Go" closed the set, Jaffe summoning the crowd to carry the repeated "Oohhh" melody throughout the song, nodding in graceful approval, as we kind-of-sort-of completed the task.
Ultimately, Jaffe herself is as sundry as her set list. Her lyrics alone prove she is palpably vulnerable and girl-like, but a deeper delve proves she's simultaneously just as precocious and able.
Afterward, Jaffe thanked the crowd as she left the stage with a simple, "It was a pleasure."
Personal Bias: Since I guiltily and admittedly sometimes fall into the "aversion to the female singer-songwriter stereotype" group, I remain impressed with Jaffe's ability to tear down such a typecast. Not to mention, "Vulnerable" has been stuck in my head since the show.
The Crowd: Respectfully mum teens and 20-somethings.
Overheard In the Crowd: "He's cute!" - shouted by a male fan about guitarist Jeremy Buller. Otherwise, not much... well done, Houston.
Random Notebook Dump: "Huckleberry Hound, that sort of thing?"
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Under A Sucker For Your Marketing Vulnerable Clementine Summer Begs Nurture It Backwards/Forwards Black Hoax Lie When You Rest Even Born Again Before You Go
Jaffe returns to Houston May 8 at Fitzgerald's.