Saturday, January 21, 2012

Adron, Smith's Olde Bar, Atlanta - January 20, 2012

Atlanta's talented multi-culturalist Adron performed last evening at Smith's Olde Bar, a classic roadhouse on Piedmont Avenue.  The venue's management put the performance on in the upstairs music room, and booked powerkompany to play downstairs in the Atlanta Room, forcing local music fans to have to choose between two worthy performers. As I had mentioned earlier this week, it wasn't an easy decision.  

As is usually the case, my decision was influenced more by outside forces than by personal preference.  One of my neighbors had mentioned that she'd heard about this whole going-out-to-hear-live-music thing that I had going on and was intrigued, and wanted to know if she could tag along with me sometime.  It had been well over 10 years since she had gone out to hear a live band play, she told me, and was ready to give it a try once again.

Naturally, I agreed, and wanted to make sure she had an enjoyable experience, one that she might want to repeat again some time.  So while I'm sure that The Carnivores and The Coathangers  put on a kick-ass show at The Earl last night, I thought that might be a tad too aggressive for someone who hadn't been at a rock concert for 10 years.  Smith's Olde Bar, on the other hand, isn't too far from our neighborhood, serves good food,  and has actual chairs in the performance space (a rare luxury these days).  So having narrowed down the options that far, I chose Adron upstairs over powerkompany downstairs because while I felt that she would probably enjoy both bands, Adron is the more unique and singular performer, the one more likely to make her feel like going out again some future evening.

After eating some dinner downstairs, we found two empty chairs and a table upstairs, and the Wesley Cook Band opened the evening with a set of slightly jazzy folk-rock. 

My neighbor enjoyed their set more than I.  While I appreciated his jazzy approach to the material, Mr. Cook sounded a bit too much like a street-corner busker for my tastes.  

Not that there's anything wrong with buskers.  All music, without exception, is a direct expression of the buddha-dharma, and there are a great many talented musicians out playing for spare change in subways, sidewalks, and shopping centers across the country who deserve a better venue.  But a busker's two-fold problem is that to get the attention of a passerby, they have to constantly be playing crowd-pleasers, and within those crowd-pleasers they have to throw in near continuous hooks.  On top of that, since they're usually playing without amplification, they have to project their voices and instruments as far as they can, and that leaves them no room for any dynamic range.  To play more quietly, they risk losing the audience, and since they're already playing at the top of their lungs, they're left with no opportunity to increase the volume or the energy.  So after a while, everything is played at the same flat dynamic level.

Musicians competing for the attention of a drinking, socializing crowd at a saloon or tavern have the same problem, although possibly aided by more amplification than their street counterparts.  I don't know for a fact if Mr. Cook is from either background - buskering or playing in taverns - but he nevertheless performed in that same, full-tilt, anything-to-keep-the-crowd's-attention style.  Now, far be it from me to want to be entertained, and Mr. Cook did that very well, but after a while I found the stasis of the flat dynamic level tiring.  

Not that there's anything wrong with it, but he chose to cover the late Etta James' At Last, a reliable crowd pleaser, just the sort of thing a busker might play to draw in some passers by. Later in his set, he asked anyone in the audience who's birthday was last night to join him on the stage for a birthday song, just the sort of move a band in a saloon might have to employ to get the crowd to direct their attention to the stage.  In an intimate music room like Smith's upstairs, one can keep an audience engaged by being interesting and original, as Adron did later last night, and does not need to resort to wedding-party covers and photo ops with birthday parties to keep the crowd's attention.  But my neighbor liked them, and there was nothing that I necessarily disliked, other than knowing that they could do better.

The second band of the evening was called Samadha, a play, I think, on the Buddhist term samadhi, although I heard several people in the audience repeat the inevitable line, "What's Samadha you?"  The keyboards-bass-drums trio played a straight-ahead set of improvisational jazz in the groove-seeking style of Medeski Martin & Wood, and, yes, they employed a wide dynamic range as well as varied tempo in their set.

I liked them, although my neighbor, not so much.  The dividing line, I think, has more than anything else to do with one's appreciation of jazz.  If you like MMW, 1970's Miles Davis, or late Soft Machine, you will probably like this band.  If not, then this may not be your thing.  Dissonance and atonality, typical in some schools of jazz, were kept to a minimum, and funk and rhythm predominated.  Keyboardist Chris Case employs some samples in his sound, mixing voices and ambient sounds with his Nord Electro 3, but  generally relies on his playing to carry the groove. 

"Those guy's are introverts," my neighbor surmised after Samadha finished their cerebral set of instrumental jazz-rock. 

Mr. Case stayed on stage after the set to be a part of Adron's band. Adron is Atlanta singer and songwriter Adrienne McCann, who blends the Brazilian Tropic├ália of Gilberto Gil with the songcraft of Joni Mitchell and Bill Withers to create a wholly original, fresh approach to pop. She has a remarkable voice that can probably fill a room like Smith's even without a microphone as she sings cheerful, clever songs in English, French and Portuguese.  

The two neighbors in the audience, who were divided over the preceding two sets, agreed on Adron's music.  If you don't like her music, you probably don't like sunny days either, or rainbows, or the first sight of the sea on a trip to the beach, or the sounds of birds after the rain.  Speaking of the latter, Adron incorporated that sound into the music by some remarkable whistling during the band's encore.

Ms. McCann is possessed of some extraordinary talent, both as a songwriter and as a performer.  It's a shame that Atlanta doesn't promote her more aggressively, as she deserves and would command a national (or international) audience.  If she lived in, say, New York or Seattle instead of Atlanta, her music would be all over the blogosphere already.  But without the support of a web savvy radio station like Seattle's KEXP or the media intensity of a New York, she still has yet to be discovered by the wider audience that would appreciate her.

Here's a video of her performing about a year ago at Eyedrum:

And this is from last week down at Florida's 30a Songwriter Festival: 

Judging by all the photographers and videographers circling the stage last night, there will probably be videos of last night's performance uploaded sometime soon.

Adron has a new album out, Organismo, from which she drew most of the songs played last night, although she also played some of her earlier songs, such as the delightful Stringsong, as well.  In all, she played a full 60-minute set, plus a two-song encore, while maintaining good cheer and an adorable stage presence throughout.

The Friday-night crowd at Smith's wasn't nearly as large as it could have been, but those of us who stayed throughout the set were demonstratively appreciative of the musical offering presented.  

I believe that if Adron ever gets the chance to tour as the opener for a national act and to be heard by a wider audience, she will become much more widely known and appreciated.  For now, she's still one of Atlanta's better little secrets.

For the record, my strategy worked, and on the drive back to the neighborhood, my neighbor remarked on how much fun it had been to go out and hear live music again. 

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