Is it just me or is the vocal clarity at mid level Pittsburgh venues a touch lacking overall? Pittsburgh live music has a bit of a raw, d.i.y., punk element surrounding it that I’ve always liked, and this often enhances the concert going experience, like when I saw the phenomenal Nirvana coat-tail riders Metz at Brillobox last winter, the unintelligible rasp of the sweat drenched, foggy-spectacled lead singer was as fitting to the performance as the ringing in my ears which lingered for at least a day after. However, when Jenny O. performed her short solo set as an opener for Nashville folksies Night Beds I wish I could have understood more of her lyrics, because, at least after reading on her website the words to “Automechanic,”–which she was playing as I stomped up the steep Brillobox stairway with its walls of bright neon psychedelia into the venue’s cozy stage room–it appears her lyrics are above average. Thankfully I could make out a good deal of her lines live and the mystic soothing tone of her voice–a blend of Stevie Nicks and Devendra Banhardt–and the down home, percussive and classic folk and rock guitar playing kept me immersed. The lone fact that she played a couple songs halfway into the set solo with an electric guitar is enough to want to throw some bucks into her metaphorical tip jar. Her music was sparse and woodsy. Jenny looks the part; on the low, dark stage she stood in front of the microphone with her ax, young and cute but not too cute, seeming very small-country-town bred, almost Appalachian, and humble and simple in a good way for it. She was wearing flowing clothing, rustic but not groaningly hippie, more rough understated mountain-woman than soul-diva. I’d let her play by my campfire as long as she wanted, no doubt.
One person with an instrument keeping a crowd satisfied is a feat, and I saw this green youngster do it (green and young though not inexperienced, she has toured with Rodriguez, an old Detroit garage rocker who has recently had his career revamped and supercharged by his central role in the biographical documentary “Searching for Sugar Man.”) I would’ve liked her more with her band, but that tends to be the case with any given solo set. My only hang up is that she didn’t play a little louder to drown out the argument between two guys at the bar beside me during the last half of her final song. It was like one of those stupidly loud Harleys revving by just as you’re trying to finish the final paragraph of a decent book. It’s called adaptability, Jenny. Similarly, if onstage people throw fruit at you, you turn it all around by picking up the fruit and smashing it against a cymbal at the precise right time, so it fits with the rhythm of the song, then you cold as ice glare at the hurler. It’s rock and roll 101. But I guess I’ll forgive her. And now I’ll listen to her album “Automechanic” and think about coyotes and dirt bike trails and the like. Gather up them hobo pie fixins.
I left my body in the bed.
I took my clutch and pipe
Climbed out the window
And I was something else instead.
I never worry
I have a garden and a radio.
Made all my own tools
Minding my business
Trade you a tune for some gasoline.