Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Elisa Flynn at Union Hall, Brooklyn NY 12/17/07

[Editor’s note – Elisa Flynn was good in 2007 when we reviewed this particular show. In the time since then she’s grown into one of the most eerily compelling, haunting singers, and songwriters, in all of New York. Her 2009 album Songs About Birds and Ghosts landed high on the Lucid Culture 50 best albums list that year. It’s always especially rewarding to be able to look back and say, “told you so!”]

The trendoid with the carefully coiffed, $300 bedhead haircut who preceded her onstage was a howl: “Ah learned ever-thang from television,” he yowled in ludicrous faux-ebonics, strumming his totally out-of-tune guitar, the hired-gun rhythm section behind him clearly in a hurry to get off the stage, grab their portions of the cash advance the guy had pulled off his parents’ credit card at the ATM, and go home. After he was finally done, the club played KT Tunstall’s cutesy powerpop over the PA, a respite akin to coming into a 40-degree room from subzero weather: in about a minute, it was cold again.

The songs on Elisa Flynn’s myspace page throw off some sparks, which was what brought us here in the first place. Backed only by musically diverse drummer Anders Griffen, Flynn sputtered and then caught fire, doing an impressive job under adverse circumstances. Nursing a cold with a pint of Guinness, she still sang terrifically well, casually, without a hint of affectation, which was even more impressive considering that for some inexplicable reason the drums in the small downstairs room here are miked into the sound mix. Even though Griffen clearly had a feel for the room and played with a considerable subtlety, there were times when he drowned her out. Obviously, it wasn’t his fault.

Flynn at her best has a great sense of melody along with a fondness for minor keys. Most of her songs are lyrically-driven, pensive and darkly reflective, yet rock with a guitar-driven bite. They’d probably have sounded more fully realized if she’d been playing electric instead of acoustic tonight. She may play under her own name, but she’s definitely a rocker. Her tunes match the mood of her lyrics. On more than one occasion tonight she proved how effectively she could turn a minute change in the melody into a pivotal moment. Unlike a lot of indie types, she likes dynamics and knows how to use them: no jarring barrages of noise during quiet moments, or vice versa. The mood of the songs varied from the somewhat bizarrely amusing Turtle King to the thoughtfully rustic Big Sky. Her best number was a burning, staccato rocker that unexpectedly turned the verse/chorus dynamic on its head, the anthemic verse going down into a quieter refrain and then back again.

But Flynn needs a séance. Like so many artists categorized as indie rock, she sometimes falls under the curse of the moveable chord, and it’s high time somebody lifted that curse. For the uninitiated, moveable chords are a lazy guitar-playing device, where the guitarist plays a major or minor chord and then changes chords by moving his or her hand a single fret, or two or three, in one direction or another without changing the fingering of the original chord. With a few exceptions (Flynn has discovered two of the really nice permutations that you can make with a D major chord), what results is either atonal or dissonant and usually throws whatever melody you have going off the rails. Moveable chords are the reason why most of the melody in grunge, emo and recent indie rock is played not by the guitar but by the bass. A lot of people who’d like to be musicians, but for one reason or another can’t pull it off, live and die by moveable chords and it’s strange that Flynn would employ them as much as she does since she’s a fluent player with a good ear for a catchy hook. Whether she continues to use them or continues to grow as a musician will determine whether in ten years’ time she takes it to the next level and gets some well-deserved props, or remains a relic of the zeros. See her next time out and you will probably be in for as beguiling and promising a show as she played tonight.

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December 18, 2007 - Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Postscript – Flynn would go on to record a magnificently melodic, lyrical cd, Songs about Birds and Ghosts in 2009 and her live gigs have become consistently excellent as well. So nice to see a promising musician fulfill that promise.

    Comment by lc | July 30, 2009 | Reply


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