International Women’s Day at The Backspace, Portland, OR, March 7
Patty and I don’t get out much these days to hear live music. But waiting for the gates of spring to burst open had us chewing at the bit, so we decided Saturday night was the night. We were going to find some good music, one way or another. Of course, not part of a demographic targeted by the current music scene, and no longer following the latest bands, we were confused. The days of punk and hard rock concerts are over for our aging and precious ears, and in this youth-oriented town, it’s hard to know what you’ll stumble into.
But we did know about International Women’s Day. And the event at The Backspace looked interesting. So, we googled the performers and listened. Okay, we decided, we’ll try them out. We were surprised by an evening of enjoyable music.
The first act was Nicole Sangsuree, backed up by members of Felina’s Arrow. She has a very competent, smooth voice with a strong presence. While the love songs she performed were not particularly inspiring to our demanding ears, many listeners would undoubtedly enjoy them more. I will confess a prejudice here. For a love/relationship song to pass muster with me it has to be really, really, really good. It has to touch something deep. Didn’t quite make it.
The second act, Ivy Ross, was great fun. Her slightly quirky voice reminded me of Jolie Holland at times and Iris Dement at others. She encouraged audience participation–which I love–and her songs were full of great social commentary and meaning. While maybe not as polished as the other two acts, she was very competent and had an winning stage personality. We’d go hear Ivy Ross again.
Felina’s Arrow was the crown of the evening. Felicia Figueroa’s amazing bass and guitar work was both accomplished and nuanced. I suspect she is classically trained, but her range of styles is impressive. The pieces ranged from jazzy samba style rhythms to Eastern European folk sounds. Poeina Suddarth’s vocals were equally amazing in range and precision. From soulful to tender, she didn’t miss a beat.
The songs, too, were skillfully written and very moving. The anthemic “Amelia” was the height of the evening, with beautifully structured minimalism and soulful pain.
My only gripe–and this is true of 95% of the live shows I’ve ever attended–the vocals are too far back in the mix. I’m a lyrics guy, and I want to hear every single one of those beautiful words. As an ex-performer myself, I realize the problem is often the venue. Old brick buildings with concrete floors aren’t the best acoustic environment. And what you, the performer hear in the stage monitors is not the same thing your audience hears. The ideal situation is to have a sound engineer you can trust, which is unrealistic most of the time. And then there is the obnoxious blathering redhead sitting near me–I really didn’t pay $7 to hear your self-absorbed chatter all night.
Despite the distractions, this is a very nice discovery for us. We will be catching Felina’s Arrow again soon.