Aby Wolf delivers stunning performance at the Cedar
Eamonn McLain and Ashley Boman of LM&TVL
Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles opened up the evening, mixing in a handful of new songs with more recognizable tunes off of last year's debut Orange Peels and Rattlesnakes. "I just wrote this song yesterday," Michelle announced before playing one solo, and she carried it off with the same grace of some of her oldest songs. The new material showcased the band's fondness for adding in layers of harmonies from everyone in the six-piece group (who were a five piece on this particular evening), and they even threw in a surprisingly not-that-cutesy cover of "Not in Nottingham" from Disney's Robin Hood.
Black Blondie's Samahra
Next up was Black Blondie, who are always a treat live. Led by the powerhouse soul vocals of Samahra and grounded by a trio of solid backing musicians, Black Blondie worked through a set of jazz, funk, and R&B heavy tunes that were the perfect contrast to the two more folk-oriented performances of the evening. Perhaps because of where I was sitting, I was especially amazed by the dazzling technical abilities of keyboardist Tasha Baron, who ran up and down scales and played percussive beats on the keys with the ease of a seasoned performer (which she is; her resume includes stints with Atmosphere, Heiruspecs and more).
Despite the overwhelming talent of the two opening acts, this show was all about main act Aby Wolf. Before Wolf took the stage, I realized that I was downright thrilled to see her come out and start playing -- to play the role of the curmudgeonly critic for a moment, it's not a feeling I get about shows lately, whether local or national. But after meeting the burgeoning singer-songwriter for an interview and playing her record at least once a day for the last few weeks, I knew that this show would be something remarkable.
And it was. Wolf was visibly nervous in front of the captive audience, giggling wildly between songs, but other than her giddy chatter she was a calm and collected performer. As Wolf sang, her crystalline voice blossomed to fill every corner of the room, overpowering the instrumentation of her talented backing band (drummer JT Bates, bassist Josh Gronowski) and demanding the spotlight.
The first half of her set was filled with fairly straightforward renditions of the songs off of her new album, Sweet Prudence, focusing heavily on the more traditional folk aspect of her songwriting. But then the truly breathtaking portion of the performance unfolded; Wolf's band cleared the stage, leaving her alone with a table full of pedals and a laptop. Though some of her experimentation with looping techniques is present on Sweet Prudence, nothing on the album rivals the way she manipulated the technique live.
Starting with a simple melody and slowly looping her own a capella vocals over one another, Wolf built the song from a solo into an entire chorus of voices, each one stronger and higher than the last. It was in this song that it became clear that Wolf has an impeccable amount of control over her voice -- each note was hit and held with a perfection that made it hard to believe it was being emanated by a human being. "It sounds like flutes," I remarked to my fellow concertgoer at one point.
With the crowd stunned, Wolf ended the song and smiled sheepishly before inviting her friend and musical collaborator Omaur Bliss onto the stage to close out the night. Changing musical gears once again, Wolf and Bliss ended the set with their R&B and hip hop-tinged single "What U Waitin 4," an insanely catchy song with a killer pop hook that, if the cosmos align properly, should be dominating radios everywhere by summer.