Review by Kira Watkins. Photos by Mary Rehak.
Last Friday night, The Parish with its intimate feel, the historic and medieval elegance of its wood floors and chandeliers, and exquisite acoustics welcomed Dallas-based bands Zhora, John Singer Sargeant, and Sarah Jaffe, a modern ensemble of indie pop/rock and electric energy.
Arriving early, I talked with fans about whether Jaffe’s new album The Body Wins is a departure or an evolution from indie folk to indie rock. I was told that she is growing and that an artist will grow cold if she tries to stay the same. I also saw an unassuming Jaffe walk through the room.
The night began with Zhora, a new collaboration of former members of the band Ishi, Taylor Rea and Rob Bastien. Zhora is new to me, and I didn’t expect to be so taken.
Rea, dressed in black, emerged in a soft purple light, dreamlike, reminding me of Madonna. Immediately, she went melodic, hypnotic and high over a driving club beat. Her soulful, haunting voice was not lost in the ’80s electro pop beat, floating above futuristic sound with energy forcing beyond the walls. Several times she showed her teeth in feisty emotion. The band was zoning, the slammin’ beat making the room pulse.
By the third song, the room was filled and the crowd captivated. The band pumped out songs like “The Hold” and “Sunset,” which I have read is influenced by early Madonna. Zhora also performed a sultry, beautiful, and enchanting version of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”
John Singer Sargeant followed, having released a self-titled debut album in April on which John Dulfilho, an impressive multi-instrumentalist, performed and mixed but had several vocalists. Before starting, Dulfilho, chill and intellectual, explained that this had never been done before and that he had invited friends to join.
The set was a fun, fresh, and inventive mix of experimental, electro pop, and funk. I think some people had a difficult time getting into it.
Jaffe joined for a couple, including “Married to the Sea.” She avoided stealing attention, adding beautiful, ethereal high tones. One of the many other vocalists was Kool and Gang’s Sir Earl adding soulful vocals and Erik Sanden in “Lazy Days Are Good.”
The packed house buzzed in anticipation of Jaffe. Gone were the simple acoustic guitar, drum, and string that produced the raw Texas indie folk sound on her first full-length album Suburban Nature.
We would hear full-on indie rock and a bass guitar in the hands of Jaffe. In the misty blue and purple light. She held a white guitar and stood with strong elegance. Her slick platinum do stirred jealousy.
With a simple, “thanks,” she launched boldly into the first song “A Sucker for Your Marketing” It’s about relationships, and her dramatic emotional vocals sell it. She continued with “Glorified High,” a new song which is buzzing with the new video on MTV.
Her raspy, earthy, and intoxicating vocals ride on distorted guitar, a futuristic sound, and driving beat.
“…This is all in Texas everybody. Good music is in Texas,” Jaffe said, giving props to her opening acts.
Next she sang “Halfway Right” with high poetic lyrics perhaps of darkness and tragedy or vulnerability. There are not the folk lyrics of the past.
Another new and perhaps haunting song “Talk” with a scorching sound that’s techie, metallic, and edgy caught attention.
“This song’s for y’all y’all y’all. Hope you guys like couple skate…” Jaffe said in a sweet and humorous way before a couple of slower songs. She also covered Drake’s “Shut It Down.”
For the cover, Jaffe dropped the instruments. The song was raw, carried by her impressive voice. Her rock version of the folk favorite “Clementine” was smooth, melodic, and well received.
At the end, she invited the opening acts for an all-star performance of the song “Under” from Ever Born Again.
Jaffe showed that she seems to be rising, evolving, and adding depth and breadth to her songwriting. Her use of electronics and cast of impressive musicians add a newness to her sound, while maintaining the same elevating, strong, soulful, and emotive vocals as before.
Sarah Jaffe performed at The Parish in Austin, Texas on May 4, 2012.