We don't normally run two pieces previewing acts from a single concert in our print edition, but last week I made an exception for Jessica Lea Mayfield and Annuals at Rhythm Room. After tonight's show I'm definitely glad I did.
As the headliner, Annuals, a six-piece indie act from North Carolina, should have everything going for them. They're six years in to their career, receiving a lot of love from music blogs and scoring an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien last fall. Yet they were easily upstaged by the bluesy 19-year-old Ohioan, who somehow managed to make the dark, moody material from her debut, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, legitimately more fun to listen to than Annuals' self-consciously uplifting tracks from their latest, Such Fun.
Opening with "Kiss Me Again," Mayfield showed her smoky voice was just as powerful in person as it is in the studio of Black Keys' singer Dan Auerbach, who discovered Mayfield and produced her debut. Singing with her eyes hidden by sunglasses for most of her set, and saving most of her demonstrative moments for the end of her performance, she built up the tension, holding the audience's attention throughout.
Mayfield's tone, and her ability to sound seductively restrained, even self-stifling, while she belted out emotional lyrics reminded me of Lucinda Williams. So did the hint of twang she tacked on to some words. Since Mayfield is from the the same suburban grid I am, I know that accent is all for show, but it didn't bother me a bit as she sang the Southern-styled refrain to "Bible Days" or closed with the deceptively sweet "For Today." Propping herself up on her upright bass playing brother while the guitarist created the sort of spaced-out country vibe I've been digging from Tucson's Golden Boots of late, Mayfield looked, and sounded, like a star.
Sadly, just like that, Mayfield was gone. In her place were Annuals, a band who has about 10 times as many plays of their songs on MySpace but who couldn't keep much more than half the crowd in the building until the end of their hour-plus set. With overwrought (honestly, it's fair to say "emo") vocals, gimmicky double, triple, and quadruple percussion parts and a nasty habit of shoegazing during solos, they bored with a set heavy on their new album ("Confessor" was a highlight) with a few older tracks, like "Chase You Off" and "Complete, or Completing" tossed in. By the encore, they had nine people onstage, four of them playing drums -- something I'd prefer to never see outside Stomp.
Stomp, by the way, will not be getting an advance article in the New Times music section next time it's in town.
Last Night: Jessica Lea Mayfield and Annuals at Rhythm Room
Better Than: Most of the acts I saw open for The Black Keys back in the day, many of whom my buddy Brian and I still mock. (Inside joke: At The Boat Shooooow!)
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Personal Bias: I probably am a little biased against Mayfield given that she's from Kent and I'm an alum of Kent State's bitter rival, Akron. As far as I know, she doesn't go to that "university" though, so I'm able to get past it.
Random Detail: Not random, just worth mentioning again... this girl is only 19. Yikes!
Further Listening: Mayfield's "Words of Love."
By The Way: Mayfield really ought to replace her main MySpace photo with the one above, which shows how her hair looks now. It is a definite improvement.