MIEARS (EP release), Tee Vee, Pearl Crush
White Oak Music Hall Upstairs
March 3, 2017
Here’s some real talk for you, music fans: when you become a parent and a homeowner for the first time (and at the same time), your ability to attend live music on a regular basis becomes rather limited. And even after your kid gets a little older so you feel more comfortable about not being around all the time, you still need to be selective about when you go out because babysitters are expensive and family members won't always be available to watch the kid for free.
So, when I heard that MIEARS was throwing a show to celebrate the release of her Who Will Save You? EP, I knew I had to make time to see my first show of 2017. If you’ve already read the fantastic piece that Jef Rouner wrote back in January, you understand the record's backstory, but in case you’re too lazy to click over to that piece, here’s the gist:
- Michelle Miears was one-third of one of the best electronic bands Houston has seen in the last couple of decades, BLSHS.
- After that group broke up, she launched a solo career as MIEARS using all the production tools she learned working with her bandmates.
- The result is a 6-song EP for which she did everything herself: all the writing, production, instrumentation, and more.
But while not everyone who creates a solo career after the demise of a critically lauded former act achieves the same level of success, that should not be the case for MIEARS. Her album is spectacular, and this show did not disappoint. Over the course of three hours on a clear and cool early March evening, MIEARS, Pearl Crush, and Tee Vee wowed the assembled crowd of almost 100 concertgoers with three blissful, yet highly unique takes on contemporary synth-pop.
Pearl Crush kicked off the evening with a 6-song set of pop-meets-electro tunes that blended the aesthetics of Lisa Loeb, Letters to Cleo, Grimes, and Mitski into an accessible whole. Sporting a feathery white dress and white Fender Stratocaster, she performed engaging guitar pop atop a bed of programmed tracks. The first two cuts were from her recent 7-inch on Houston’s Poison Moon Records, “First Blush” b/w “Semiprecious Stone”; they were also the most straight-ahead pop tunes of the night.
From there, her set became more experimental and showcased what should be the direction of future songs: a warbling soprano that cracks ever-so-slightly in the higher register atop glitchy, off-kilter beats that blur the line between atmospheric and disorienting. Highly recommended.
When Tee Vee took the stage, the mood deepened and took a welcome turn towards the dark and unsettling. Teresa Vicinanza and Daniela Hernandez (bassist for New York City Queens) stood face to face, both clad in all-white attire, and with only a bank of synths and processors separating them. What followed were six songs powered by strong, heavily syncopated beats and drenched in feedback, yet reflecting keen pop sensibilities. If you missed the duo’s set at Day for Night Fest 2016, imagine Fever Ray making music with the Sugarcubes (or check out their other project, Rose Ette).
I was enamored with the aggressive juxtaposition of a wall of electronic noise with wispy synths that drifted over the top and penetrated the cracks in the mortar. Vicinanza married her lilting soprano with a theatricality to great effect, while big snare claps punctuated the air in the finest ‘90s techno tradition. And the older music fans I was standing with chuckled a bit when Vicinanza snapped at the crowd a couple times for talking during the set, specifically stating after the second song, “Please stop talking. That would be really cool.”
Ultimately, the keytar and voice we were all there to hear walked onto the venue's small upstairs stage. Clad in a blazer, shift dress, and ankle boots in the same shade of pink, MIEARS lit into a fantastic rendition of “Directional,” the opening cut on her EP. Backed by a spectacular live drummer who sported a felt blazer the same color as MIEARS’ outfit, she immediately filled the room with her tremendous soprano nd swelled even the coldest hearts in the crowd.
On the surface, we were graced with a gorgeous brand of ‘80s synth-pop, but underneath it all, we found soaring ballads and torch songs of the highest order. With her airy soprano and nearly effortless range, MIEARS brought a tone and clarity to her glistening high notes that most established artists only wish they could have.
The 8-song set ran through all six songs on her EP, but she also introduced two brand-new cuts. The first was a funky minor-key groove that sounded like a collaboration between Phil Collins and Annie Lennox, while the second was reminiscent of Florence + the Machine, but a syncopated and chilled-out version.
I was also struck by the urgency on display with the live version of these tunes. MIEARS managed to merge the dense layers of production from the recorded version of the EP with an elegance, grace, and longing that comes from emoting in front of a receptive crowd. And while she never stepped from behind the keytar all night, her passion and intensity for her craft left you believing every single word she sang.
If you weren’t among the small crowd that gathered for this show, you missed a wonderful night of music. And as a fan of both synth-pop that flirts with the avant-garde and women who produce and make music on their terms, I was thrilled to watch three Houston-area acts perform with such strength, aplomb, and tenacity. I heartily encourage you to seek out these artists.
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