At some point last year, I stopped writing about the shows I was going to. I’ve still been taking notes on my phone — quick bullet point observations of songs and performers — but I haven’t been committing them to blog paper lately. Last night’s Natalie Prass show was one hell of a wake-up call, however, and I can’t resist sharing this time around. Here are my notes as they would have looked if I’d been able to pull a Zack Morris and pause the show to wax rhapsodic about what I was seeing. (As a side note, I once told my parents during an episode of Saved By the Bell that I wanted to change my name to Zack. They didn’t oblige, which seems like the right call in retrospect.)
- About 30 seconds into the first song — “Your Fool,” if memory serves — I mentally composed a knee-jerk reaction tweet that said, simply, “Holy shit holy shit holy shit.” Those first few moments said so much, about her voice, about the relationship between the elaborate arrangements on her record and the songs themselves… and what those moments said, to me at least, was “Holy shit.” So frequently, you build things up only to be let down by flesh-and-blood fact. This was the opposite. Her voice was even more powerful and nimble than I imagined, and seeing her move from chord to chord on guitar (she played keys as well — Fender Rhodes I believe) made it easier to see how tightly composed these songs are. The achingly beautiful Spacebomb arrangements on her record can’t and shouldn’t be ignored or downplayed, but the songs themselves are sturdy things, glued together by the strong stuff that the most gifted songwriters use, like anticipation, pacing and emotional resonance. I would say that first song was like getting knocked back by something, but it felt more like being pulled in close, which is why I didn’t actually tweet “Holy shit holy shit holy shit.” I didn’t want to look away.
- I tend to focus on singers’ intonation to the point of distraction. It’s a bad habit that can elevate that one element to a counterproductive level of importance — there are whole genres I have trouble accessing because the singing is harsh or atonal. As a result, when I’m witnessing a singer whose tone is true throughout an entire evening, it’s extremely liberating. I get to focus on all sorts of other vocal elements I might otherwise miss, like subtle dynamic changes and how much emotion is being conveyed. Prass’ notes were so true that my mind was free to float around, like being temporarily cut loose from something weighty. Speaking of anti-gravity, the way her voice can jump up and down — especially when she’s hitting staccato syllables like the ones in “Bird Of Prey” — is something to behold in person. You can hear it on the album, but it’s even more impressive live.
- “It Is You,” the much discussed and Disney-compared last track of her album, was an event unto itself. And while Prass’ work on it was otherworldly in its own way, Trey Pollard’s guitar rose to one hell of a challenge. On several songs, he managed to incorporate notes that hinted at the arrangements he and Matthew E. White added to Prass’ recordings, but “It Is You” had him twisting and turning his way through a jazzy obstacle course that needed to sound sweet, not convoluted, and he absolutely nailed it. Reminded me of the tasteful exploration that makes Blake Mills’ playing so thrilling. Also amazing was his work on “Any Time, Any Place” — he plucked a series of harmonic overtones about halfway through that very nearly made my face fall off.
- I don’t know how many of her upcoming dates will include string quartet accompaniment on “Christy,” but what a treat that was — proof that what we were witnessing last night wasn’t recreation of studio magic, but the spoils of hard work done by finely-tuned and engaged musical minds.
- Much like Strange Matter was for the Trillions fantastic release show on Saturday, the Broadberry was packed with talented Richmond musicians, from Matt White and the Spacebomb folks to Reggie Pace and others. It can be a dizzying experience, making your way to the bar and passing so many people you revere and spend copious amounts of headphones-in time with — the only thing to do is let go and feel grateful for living where you live and being surrounded by such a supportive and ambitious community. The icing on the cake? Prass mentioning that, because she recently moved to Richmond, she literally walked to the gig.
Sorry for not having any photos to show — I took one crappy iPhone shot, but for the most part, I couldn’t even move. This was a moment I wanted to savor completely, with as little electronic interference as possible. If you live outside of Richmond, do yourself a favor and click here to see if she’s coming to a town near you. This tour should not be missed.