With its homey vibe and easy-going bartender, Radio Café proved a comfortable spot to hide out on a freakishly cool August Thursday night. The back of the room brimmed over with neighborhood characters, while the area in front of the stage remained starkly empty. In other words, it was a typical evening at a Nashville watering hole, where people are more interested in drinking and talking than listening. Amelia White and Sara Beck each responded to that in their own way, the former noting the sparse, unengaged crowd and the latter just simply giving off a weird vibe.
White and her band, The Blue Souvenirs, opened with a reasonably solid performance. With her spiky hair, low-rise jeans and dark glasses, White looked more like a punk princess than a folk-rock songstress. She paired her poetic California themes with knee-slapping country, blues and rock. But however thoughtful and smart her lyrics were, her mumbled singing sapped the songs of their energy: the set included an obligatory war song and "a song about Internet sex," but the former felt devoid of purpose, the latter devoid of humor. Her set was a comfortable enough listencomfortable enough for the listener's attention to drift away.
Headliner Sara Beck's voice is her greatest strength. Her songwriting is strong too, and easy to relate to, but like White, she's not a particularly commanding performer. Beck presented a musical buffet of styles: country, bouncy pop, ballads, sultry jazz and, for her encore, a solo acoustic love song. With the relatable lyric, "You're an easy mistake to make," Beck's first song of the night could easily be a Top 40 single. Her girl-power pop songs, "Julia With the Red Hair" and "Six Feet Tall," were happy and catchy, but never sunk to the level of trite teen pop. She zipped through a Patsy Cline cover and her own poignant, countrified "Born to Make You Happy" with ease. Shannon Wright of The Wrights emerged from the audience three times to sing backup, her voice adding a complementary depth to Beck's.
Beck's songwriting is as good as anyone else's we've heard in Nashville, but her onstage fidgeting was a constant distraction. Her posture suggested she lacked self-awareness: she stood holding her guitar comfortably, but the rest of her bodyknees slightly turned in and shoulders slightly slumpedmade her look timid and girlish. However smoothly she could move from one genre to another, her body language simply didn't match what she sang. During serious songs, she chuckled and winked at friends in the back of the bar, as if they were her only audience; during the jazzy songs, she couldn't decide whether to go for lounge-singer sexiness or Marcia Brady coyness. Simply put, she lacked poise, though it was hard to tell whether from too much confidence or a lack of it.
It wasn't until the end of the show when the audience clapped hard, whistled and beckoned for an encore that Beck decided to put herself completely and totally into the music. As the band left the stage, she picked up her guitar and cooed a sweet and gentle love song, "Bet on Me." She stood still, and when the crowd's chatter started to overtake the song, she just sang louder. Midway through the song, the crowd fell silent, caught off guard by her sudden decision to take her performance seriously.
Contact Marie and Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org