Getting to this concert was a bit of a fiasco. I mistook it for a Friday night show, thought I missed it, found out its real date from an uninvolved text message, and scrambled around the corner of U and 9th for about ten minutes before finally finding the venue (DC9). Nevertheless, this little early evening jam sesh turned out to be the best part of my weekend.
DC9 is a small venue off U Street with multiple levels of bars and a stage on the second floor. The lighting was low but warm like a bar, not eclectic like a concert venue. The show had sold out, but only about 100 people were there. I could sit at the back of the crowd and still feel a personal experience with the band.
The opener was The Courtney’s, an all-female garage band with a fun but typical sound. The Courtney’s, if anything, was an indie show more than a Courtney’s show. They were almost overbearingly emblematic of indie rock culture at the expense of originality, with the hairstyles and everything.
However, regardless of the female entertainment, the crowd was largely male, bearded, around 35 years old, and stoic in facial expression. The notable exceptions were the three 12 year old girls that slipped past my elbow in pursuit of a better view halfway through the show – family members of the band, I would assume.
I had found Jay Som, aka Melina Duterte, through the release of her most recent album Everybody Works about three weeks ago. All told, she possesses a satisfactory but averagely indie sound. I enjoyed “Bus Song” and “Turn Into” but the majority of her other recorded material didn’t strike me too heavily. Jay Som, digitally, is distinctly indie pop. It’s bubbly, a little lo-fi, and occasionally a bit frustrated.
Her discography, two albums and a handful of singles, is marked by a clear progression from grittier lo-fi mood-rock to more produced and glitter-glued pop sound in Everybody Works. That’s not to say she approaches anything like Passion Pit or even Sylvan Esso, but so far, its direction is definitely away from the garage and towards the studio.
For all of the development, the string that holds the whole package together is Melina Duterte’s voice. Digitally, Duterte’s vocals are special but lack the defined character of Chan Marshall (Cat Power) or Beth Gibbons (Portishead). That being said, the Oakland-native’s floating nonchalant tone is almost irresistible live. Even the way she speaks between songs is pleasant. Her voice has the quintessential flavor of any strong-hearted indie rock female vocalist but with a smooth rolling quality that leaves a little edge. Her voice becomes real but dreamy in the same right, relaxing and exciting the listener. Every spectator was hopping to the electric guitar but swaying to a lullaby in the same moment.
To sweeten the sound a little more, Duterte inserts multiple cacophonous crescendoeing instrumentals into both her songs and the stages between to rattle the room out of her voice-induced dream-state. These instrumentals were partially improvised but entirely unconventional and added just the appropriate amount of jazzy friction to the show.
Jay Som’s unique blend of warm-sheets relaxation and black nail-polish feminine grit is a unique experience live. It’s an original breed of “coffee-house punk” full of soft howls, funky basslines, and crashing guitar solos that leaves you pleasantly confused by the end of the show. The live vibe is very much more mature and skilled than it is digitally. Her most popular song, “Bus Song” was actually one of the least interesting live, but other less-popular tracks were the biggest crowd-pleasers from the stage.
I would highly recommend the show as a pleasantly stimulating but all together relaxing component to a weekend and an excellent way to experience Jay Som the way she should really be enjoyed.