If you walk up the flight of chocolate wooden stairs of The Parish, there’s a dark, smokey room waiting for you, with walls of red brick and dimly lit chandeliers, intimate yet large enough for the boom of great music to reach quite a big bunch of people.
It was the perfect setting for celebrating the release of a new album by the strong-voiced and strong-willed Sarah Jaffe (pictured above), a Texas singer who began writing songs as a teenager.
I arrived just as Denton band Seryn (pictured left) was setting up. Seryn proved that, sometimes, silence is a bigger sign of appreciation and awe than whistling and applause. Now don’t get me wrong, people still went crazy for their heavenly voices and footstomps used as instrumental additions.
See, this is why I love this job—discovery, finding the unexpected. It wasn’t enough that Seryn added a ukelele and an accordion to the usual rock instruments, but when they brought out the banjo, well, then people went nuts. Their whole set was a cloudy and hazy thrill of musical orgasm, every song with a jawdropping peak, going from good, better, great—then, in the words of a very articulate audience member, “ FUCK! This is ridiculously good.”
My editor has told me he worries I might just drop everything and leave with a musician one day, but c’mon, can you blame me? For me, there’s always that moment in a show when I’m so into the music that suddenly it dawns on me—becoming a groupie sounds like a very viable alternative. The main vocalist, a sweeter, softer Dave Roth. The whole band was just painfully talented, perfect for the build-up to the wonderful Sarah Jaffe.
Now, there are many, many singer/songwriters in our world. When listening to them online, or reading about them, you kinda think they’re all the same. But there’s something about watching a performer quite as talented and beautiful as Jaffe that still leaves people in silence—it’s honesty and soul. With an excellent back-up band that included violin and cello, Jaffe had the audience in a silent eagerness, proving that the tiniest hints of a guitar stroke go a long way when accompanied by such a powerful voice.
Even the shuffle of bottles and regular bar sounds quieted down for Jaffe, and as I looked around I could see numerous people with their eyes closed, swaying to her sweet music. A Johnny Knoxville-look alike, with his trucker hat and sleeveless flannel, smiled with his eyes gently shut, and the crowd, which had been standing back for Seryn, edged closer to the stage, as if to feel closer to the girl in the spotlight.
There was a moment during her set in which she shared that she tried to write her song “Two Intangibles Can’t Be Had” in French, but that “freetranslation.com wasn’t working.” And in that moment when the song began, you could tell that yes, there is something very something about this song, with the sound of the accordion giving it a touch of French genius. And probably many people last night where thinking, like me, “Damn—why did I quit my violin class? And why didn’t I listen to my mom when she suggested singing lessons after my not-so-terrible rendition of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’?”
Jaffe seemed sweet and shy, but in between songs she joked around with her tiny group of hecklers, mumbling, “Nothing sets the mood like talking about getting topless” after a shouted-out request to take her shirt off from the audience.
The girl is funny, and there’s such a truth to her musical stories that you immediately take a liking to her. Quite a successful show, quite a fulfilling night, it was after the pleading shouts for an encore that I realized Jaffe’s lyrics to “Summer Begs”—“ somewhere someone’s sleeping/somewhere someone’s weeping/ somewhere someone’s listening/ to the sound of a record spinning”—fit perfectly to any Saturday night, and any night of great music.
View a gallery of black-and-white photos taken during Sarah Jaffe’s set here.