Photos and review by Steve Jansen
Better than: Indulging in the usual Monday night fare, which is laying in my own filth at home and listening to Coast to Coast on 550 AM KFYI.
Bay area-based musician Ash Reiter brought her unique singer/songwriter routine to Carly’s Bistro for the first of a two-night Valley engagement. (She also performed Trunk Space the following eve.) I found out about the show through The Power of Positive Thinking drummer/Bikini Lounge emcee/collector of 78s/ex-Lonna Kelly bandmate Shane Kennedy, when I ran into him Sunday night at the Phoenix Bach Choir gig.
Reiter, who is on a two-month cross-country tour, is recruiting musicians in each city to perform with her. She met someone here when she played Phoenix last year, and they suggested that the PoPT would be a perfect fit, especially considering the similarities between Reiter and Lonna Kelley.
Apparently, Carly’s forgot that Reiter and crew were playing because there was no sign of their performance on its calendar. Shane called me at lunchtime Monday and told me that he was going to call Carly’s to remind them that they were hosting music in their venue in less than eight hours. I never heard back from him, so this is where the constant refreshing of MySpace helped (exclusively from home and not at work, of course), as Carly’s sent out a couple of bulletins promoting the gig.
As you can imagine, there weren’t many folks there. In a way, this was a good thing because I felt like I had the band to myself. Plus, the musicians were chilled out and didn’t appear to be nervous, considering the intimate, laid-back vibe.
The Power of Positive Thinking took the stage first. These cats are one of the most under-the-radar bands in town, even more so because they’ve scaled back their live performances quite a bit compared to a few months ago when they played all over town and in Tucson.
They ran through five original tunes, including the always crowd pleasing “I Pagliacci,” a swinging cabaret-like song that showcased several seamless tempo changes and vocalist Daryl Scariot singing his impassioned lyrics. What I like about PoPT is that there’s no showing off, selfish guitar solos, or obnoxious rubber-armed drum breakdowns. Whether it's Dario Miranda’s moody upright bass lines, Kennedy’s well-stated accompaniment, the storytelling element to Scariot’s lyrics, or dirty Duane Eddy-esque tones by Jeremy Randall (another refugee from Lonna Kelley’s band who played with PoPT for the first time in two months), the healthy rapport between the members is evident.
Ash Reiter and The Reluctant Prostidudes (PoPT sans Scariot) performed next. Reiter came highly billed on the Trunk Space flier with comparisons to Jolie Holland, Rilo Kiley, The Blow, Billie Holiday, St. Vincent, and Patsy Cline. I think that’s overdoing it a bit. If anything, she reminds me of Hanne Hukkelberg, the Norwegian queen whose 2005 debut "Little Things" is still on constant rotation in my crib. There’s a nautical vibe to Reiter’s warm and peaceful voice that sounds like Hukkelberg’s, a pensive quality analogous to contemplating life while sitting on the beach.
Ash Reiter She performed seven of her tunes with the band, and you’d never know that the total amount of rehearsal time equaled 30 minutes. (“It was more of us standing in a circle and holding hands to make sure the energy was good,” Kennedy told me.) The band played it safe with the medium-tempo tunes, but the performance never felt stale. The vibe of Reiter’s lyrics contained a road-trip sensibility, when music of this kind and a long drive through fields of nothingness is the only way to heal a broken heart. Song titles included “Bee Sting,” “The Mormon Song,” and “Stumble and Fall,” which Reiter called her “Motown single” and featured the lyrics:
“There’s a ghost in my head
Oh, there’s a ghost in my bed
Oh, there’s a ghost in my chest
And he will not let me rest
Oh, he haunts me and he taunts me all the time
He won’t give back this heart of mine
I stumble down and then I fall
My heart falls at my feet
I wash it into filthy city streets
It’s a dirty dirty dirty dirty shame
I’ll never ever be the same again
So I picked it up
And brushed off the crumbs
Oh how could I be
How could I be so dumb dum dum dum….?”
There were some minor hiccups here and there -- including an abnormally loud espresso machine yelling at the band from across the bar, which Reiter smiled about and took in stride -- but nothing serious enough to poo-poo the gig.
After wrapping up her cross-country and Canadian tour in mid-December, she’s going back to Santa Cruz for a few months, then plans on heading back to town in February ’08 to record an album with select members from The Power of Positive Thinking. Reiter told me that she’s not thrilled with her current CD-R; she wants to do a serious recording, with seasoned musicians, that includes professional production/mastering and bonafide label distribution. I think that’s all dandy, except bollocks to her CD-R being subpar music-wise, because the 12-track effort gives listeners a pretty accurate snapshot of her distinctive country-indie-folk.
But I can see her point. Some studio magic to clean up the lo-fi qualities inherent to DIY recordings will definitely bring out additional colors and textures in her already unique voice. I look forward to hearing what she can create with some professional equipment and a group of kickass musicans.
Ash Reiter: www.myspace.com/drunkenboat
The Power of Positive Thinking: www.myspace.com/thepowerofpositivethinking
Carly’s Bistro: www.myspace.com/carlysbistro
Lonna Kelley: www.lonnakelley.com
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Personal bias: I heart most vocalists (Björk, Hukkelberg, Miss Spindleheart) who live by the ocean.
Random detail: The couch Reiter was supposed to crash on fell through so I offered up my dwelling for a couple of evenings. Work was especially hectic so I wasn’t able to kick it with her too much, but I did learn that she’s a well-read and super down-to-Earth individual. And she can fold a spare bedsheet much more neatly than I ever could.