Nina NastasiaEdit this event
It’s common for those preferring music just slightly below the mainstream radar to bemoan the fact that their favourite in-the-margins artists aren’t the recipients of daily airplay on major radio stations; quality comparisons are often made between Artist A – said critic’s band of choice – and Artist B – the band enjoying ten plays a day on Radios 1 and 2 – with the conclusion inevitably that A deserves the place of B.
But every now and again it’s better to appreciate that an artist isn’t all over the drive-time airwaves: if Nina Nastasia was heard by the commuting masses at five-thirty on a Friday afternoon, traffic would grind to a standstill for a fair few minutes. Even in a venue as haphazard of clarity as The Scala – taller than it is deep, it seems – the non-native New Yorker’s wondrous voice soars majestically. All anyone in attendance – the few chattering ingrates aside – can do is breathe deep and exhale slowly for the duration of each song; as shoulders slump in time with the final strum of guitar or fingering of piano key, the process simply repeats, relative silence absorbing the on-stage splendour.
But first (well, second if we’re totally honest), Jeffrey Lewis entertains the assembled throng of onlookers and listeners. His quirky take on all things folk – quite the quirkiest around, if you’ll forgive the use of the ‘q’ word; it’s not meant as any offence – is captivating, and a couple of accompanying slideshows keep eyes as focused as ears are. Highlights are many and varied, one of which is a surprise mid-set song from Scritti Politti. Lewis’ own ‘Roll Bus Roll’ and ‘Don’t Be Upset’ stir the hardcore into sing-alongs and spread chuckles amongst those not so familiar with his amusing storytelling style, but it’s set closer ‘The Creeping Brain’, plus projections, that draws the grandest applause.
It’s a brain! It grows legs and a mouth! It eats lizards and dead racoons and a dog and people and buildings and stuff! It drives a van! Then it turns nice, answers questions and dies! Amazing? I _think _so…
Nina herself acknowledges the brilliance of Lewis and his band during one of many stuttered attempts at between-song banter – her shyness in such moments is ever so endearing – but her own material shines just as brightly as that of her support act, albeit in a very different way. Her music is the sort that the listener allows to wholly envelop them; they willingly jump in at the deep end and don’t feel the need to come up for air. It doesn’t require a fully alert mind to process its messages, however ambiguous; whereas the listener must be totally tuned in to Lewis’ work to make sense of his often rapidly delivered verses, Nina’s operates on a more soulful level, more in tune with the beat of the heart than the buzz of the brain, creeping or otherwise. ‘Counting Up Your Bones’ is just one offering this evening that would have those aforementioned home-from-workers pulling onto the hard shoulder, even if it’s blighted by an excess of uncontrollable feedback this evening.
‘Treehouse Song’ – a request, albeit one that would have almost certainly have aired without the bellowed invitation to perform it – is another sweetly affecting composition. What Nina Nastasia does, writing wise, isn’t rocket science; her assimilation of influences – folk- and rock-sourced – doesn’t have its roots wholly in the underground, but the execution of a song like ‘Why Don’t You Stay Home’, a song so delicate that to talk over it would shatter its frail frame, is just _so_ perfect. Really, precise adjectives fail the intoxicated reviewer.
That’s intoxicated by song, not drink, and it’s a dreamlike state that’s saddening to withdraw from come the set’s encore-capping climax. Artists that can politely invite you into their special, private world for a while and leave you absolutely moved by the experience are incredibly rare, so be grateful for Nina Nastasia and her position as an independent, untouched-by-the-majors artist. Somehow, you just know that if this wonderful music was made available for mass consumption, its effect wouldn’t be quite so magically potent.
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