Chicago, IL • April 14th
Climbing the stairs to the main ballroom of the renovated 1920s mansion-turned-concert venue, I heard the swirling mysterious melodies of French quartet L’Orchidée d’Hawaï who, even though they speak English, barely sang a word of it. But the music certainly overcame the lyrical language barriers with their rocking psychedelic hybrid of eastern European polkafied tempos, ’60s surf rock and jangly ’50s Japanese pop tracks (sung in Japanese just to make sure all the continents were covered).
I was disappointed to see them wrap up their set but as the crowd popped a squat on the carpeted floor of the theatre/ballroom, I quickly remembered who was headlining tonight and that the show was not about rumbling to rock but instead all about absorbing franticly gentle acoustic guitar pickings and introspective witty folk-style nursery rhymes.
It wasn’t the Oscars and I didn’t notice anyone chugging large bottles of Sunny-D but nonetheless, with a frazzled demeanor and frizzy fro, Kimya Dawson entered the hall to an applause, sat down on a folding chair center stage cradling her acoustic guitar, smiled and said with a bashful whisper into the microphone, “I’ll play as fast as I can, okay?” fullly aware of the Monday night setting and thoughtful of the younger fans in the crowd who would have to obey the impending 11:00pm curfew.
The second she starts playing, it’s obvious what makes Kimya Dawson as a solo artist, apart from Moldy Peaches, so engaging. Her sonic style blends folk with punk and her lyrics can shock, enlighten, warm your heart or just make you giggle as she sings with a childlike innocence about friendships, politics and the world as she sees it, always realistic and honest about her own trials and tribulations and those of everyday people. Her delivery is nice and cute and friendly but once the words get past the reaches of her motherly tone, the appreciation of what she’s doing as a songwriter sets in — which you can also attribute to the huge success of the Oscar nominated Juno.
After she played a few tracks, Dawson shared how she was conflicted about continuing to tour with her mom having surgery the next day, and spoke openly about her conflicted struggle to be a mom and a touring musician. She shared openly several other issues, adding depth and vulnerability to a captivating stage presence that doesn’t mess with singer-songwriter pretensions. And even when she flubbed a chord or a lyric, it was as if it didn’t even matter, almost like you expected it because it felt like you were in her bedroom reliving the moments when she first wrote the song.
As the hum of simple chord progressions flowed out over a contemplative hush, a few lyric-induced crowd chuckles bubbled over. She unveiled songs from a forthcoming children’s album which, by the sounds of it and as most Dawson songs are, should be good listening for older and younger kids, especially the song about “Sleepy Little Monsters.” That song was so simplistically brilliant as Dawson’s rapid nursery rhyme delivery made everyone bust with laughter mainly because she doesn’t hide her humanity, but instead mixes all her experiences together in one big messy stew, packaging her barbed lyrics in a speedy folk-style rasping whisper, finger picking her guitar, telling wisdom-filled tales and sharing her unabashed opinion about heart-aching relationships, childrearing, politics, and youthful rebellion — and doing it all with humble conviction and confidence but still appearing fragile and ready to fall apart at any time, making the show a cathartic roller coaster you wish wouldn’t end.
Wrapping up the show, Dawson invited openers L’Orchidée d’Hawaï back up on-stage for a meatier version of “Loose Lips,” making it almost impossible for anyone to pretend like nothing ever happened and just in time for curfew, before the cops showed up.
Kimya Dawson: www.kimyadawson.com