This Bird Can Sing
Helsinki, Great Barrington, Mass., Feb. 3
Haale’s Web site says her music is Persian and Sufi-based,
filtered with ’60s psychedelia, an attention-getting description
if there ever was one. The show Haale and her band put on
at Helsinki Friday night was all that and more. A lot more.
New York City-born to Iranian parents, Haale was a combination
of Jim Morrison, Nico, Edith Piaf and Selma Hayek, sensuously
coaxing emotion out of the largely Middle Eastern-sounding
songs, singing in at least three languages, conducting the
band, and whomping alternatively on an Iranian setar and a
wicked-cool black-and-white Silvertone guitar.
The band consisted of violin, cello, and drums-bass-guitar,
and was incredibly sympathetic. The strings (Megan Weeder
and Marika Hughes) played contrapuntal melodies reminiscent
of George Martin’s orchestral ragas on late-period Beatles
records, stabbed rhythmic tattoos, and—occasionally and to
great effect—tracked the complicated melodies in octaves.
Aram Bajakian played his guitar like a percussion instrument,
in the East Village no-wave tradition, shooting sparks rather
than notes or chords. Drummer Keith Van Nostrand simply danced
on the beats, whether propelling a Persian 6/8 jig or laying
down a bed of impossible polyrhythms against an implied, driving
backbeat. Bassist Mike Oliverio kept the whole thing grounded,
staying at once indispensable and out of the way. The band
repeatedly pulled off the ridiculously difficult trick of
fading out songs, the essence of a group tightrope walk without
Haale’s voice was playful, sultry, and nuanced; she could
wail over the din as well as coax a melody out of her breath.
She stood her ground and sang; despite the Sufi roots, she
wisely left the twirling interpretive dance routines to others.
A rocking ode to Jimi Hendrix’s stint as a paratrooper was
a pea in a pod to a rocking version of an ancient Iranian
folksong. A quiet mid-set song, with only the strings behind
her, was a perfect piece of melodic chamber-pop, without a
hint of exotica, but not a bit out of place. The 90-minute
set seemed to pass in a blink.
There was something pure and terribly real about the music,
and hats off to Haale and company for not taking the easy
route and throwing a tedious electronic dance beat over the
top of the crafted and meaningful songs. It would so easy
for her to become another empty instant superstar for the
party crowds in places like Ibiza, but richer and more permanent
things are clearly waiting in the wings.
Williams brought his folky funk show to the Egg on Saturday
(Feb. 4). The accomplished acoustic guitarist (he names Michael
Hedges as his greatest inspiration on that instrument) wore
several hats for this show: straightforward singer-songwriter
in the John Mayer vein; bluegrass picker of Keller and the
Keels (his recent collaboration with Larry and Jenny Keel);
and one-man band, looping guitar, bass, drums, keyboards,
and vocal sounds through a Gibson Echoplex to create the sound
of a real live band. Jammin’.