On Sunday, I started the post about Sierra Noble as follows:
In what is obviously becoming a regular occurrence, we discover new musicians in the following cycle: 1) they perform side-person duties with someone we regularly see, 2) we see some mini-set where they headline a portion, 3) we see them perform a full set of their own, falling madly in love with them directly.
Since every word applies to Valerie Mize equally (including the falling madly in love part), I’ll plagiarize myself out of pure laziness. We first saw Valerie singing backup at the Soul Revue Benefit. Then we saw her perform a 3-song set at Backscratch XIV. We’ve seen her singing backup twice since, which made us want to see her perform a full set last night at Rockwood Music Hall.
In the Backscratch post I mentioned that Valerie has a beautiful voice and plays the guitar very well. Let me underscore both points and add a new one: she writes songs that both Lois and I love! Her lyrics flow smoothly with many interesting phrases. The songs are structured really well and are executed wonderfully.
We picked up a copy of her Auspices EP at Backscratch. We like it so much that we bought another copy last night for three reasons: 1) We wanted a signed copy, 2) We like to support the artists we love, 3) Some lucky friend of ours will get the unsigned copy that we currently have.
Since I underscored the old comments, let me explain a bit. Valerie’s voice has tremendous range and different tonality when appropriate. She can do a throaty soul type number, as well as soaring laser-like notes when singing above the audience on Downtown Train. She ended the show with the latter, crushing the highs.
Valerie finger picks the electric guitar beautifully, but she took it to levels that didn’t come through at Backscratch (for lack of time). Her guitar play on Tell Me Why (the first song on the EP) is fantastic. It’s gorgeous on the EP too, but live, it’s actually mesmerizing. Easy to miss how good the rest of the song is while your eyes are glued to her fingers.
Enough about Valerie already. Actually, sorry, I do need to say one more thing. Valerie is one of the most natural on-stage performers. She is quick witted and appears completely comfortable (regardless of whatever nerves might be going on under the covers). When she flubbed the beginning guitar part to a song late in the set, she restarted twice. After the second error, she noted that this was as much a comedy set as a music one. Folks, if she wanted to, she likely could be a good comedian (or do you prefer comedienne?).
On to the band. Left-to-right on the stage:
Ward Williams on cello. We’ve seen Ward many times. He was terrific every single time. Last night as well, but it was also a bit special. I was sitting 12 inches from the cello. If Ward had worse aim with the bow, he could have poked my eye out. On one song it was mostly Ward and Valerie alone. Absolutely gorgeous. Ward plucked a bunch in addition to the more traditional bowing. It had been a while since we’d last seen Ward, so this was a wonderful surprise!
Bri Arden on background vocals. I recently covered Bri’s full set. Since Valerie sang backup at that set, Bri returned the favor here. The same comments apply. Having a legitimate lead singer sing background is a treat, because they understand their job well, knowing what works for them when they are in the lead. Needless to say, Bri did a great job.
Antar Goodwin on electric bass. I am extremely impressed with Antar’s play. What was fascinating to me last night was that he was blocked from my view for nearly the entire set, except for his left hand, which I could see dancing up and down the frets (body-less). Since I could also hear the bass perfectly, it was like watching a finger ballet matching the sound.
Here’s a shot of what Antar looked like to me:
Tomo Kanno on drums. Tomo was excellent throughout the set as well. The core trio (Valerie, Antar and Tomo) are extremely tight and well-matched.
Perhaps the most surprising (and welcome) thing was the absolutely perfect volume level on every instrument and both voices. Given that the guitar and bass were electric and that I was three feet from the guitar amp and six from the bass amp, I would typically have been blown out in a Rockwood 1 set. Kudos to the band for finding the right amp levels and allowing Drew on sound to level everything else to match (voices and cello).
Here’s the set list. Valerie played all five songs from the EP, plus five more (excellent) songs. We both particularly liked Cinderella:
So, when does Valerie play again?