Garrison Starr | 06.16.07

starrStarr played solo on electric guitar, something you don't see many female performers do, so that was rather striking.

 

w/Abra Moore
Off Broadway, St. Louis

The opportunity to hear great singer/songwriters live is one of the most pleasurable experiences in music, but only if the sound system at the relevant venue allows for the full expression of the artists to come through. In that respect, Off Broadway's batting average is higher than just about any major venue in St. Louis, and this pairing of two outstanding female artists – Austin's Abra Moore and Nashville-based Garrison Starr -was an exceptional evening of clear acoustics and inspired performances. Accordingly, the audience was at rapt attention throughout-there was nary a sour note sounded the entire night.

Moore is a willowy presence known to most as a founding member of Poi Dog Pondering, as well as the composer of the hit song "Four Leaf Clover" a decade ago. A spirit of wistful nostalgia and yearning pervades Moore's songs, and this has made her last two records, 2004's Everything Changed and the just-released On the Way, her most compelling yet. There's more than a hint of vulnerability in her girlish vocals, but there's also a fragile grace and ethereal charm.

Moore manages to convey an enduring belief in beauty and the search for love even as you suspect many tears have been shed through the experiences she documents in her songs. Almost like a declaration of intent, the first lyrics Moore sang were, "I'm taking chances/I wear my heart on my sleeve," and that simple honesty was a hallmark of her subsequent performance. Her guitar strumming was wonderfully resonant, and she was ably assisted by secondary guitarist/backup vocalist Will Sexton.

Moore performed several songs from her new album, including the mesmerizing "Sugarite," which has melodically satisfying chord changes and powerful wordless vocals among its many virtues. Moore told an amusing anecdote about running errands one day and having a song in her head, which she had to write down in the parking lot ("I think I was at OfficeMax") before continuing with her shopping. The song was "After All These Years," and its poignant intimacy had the audience riveted.

Other new songs included "You," which created a memorable atmosphere through a repeated two-chord arrangement and Moore's emotive delivery, and "Into the Sunset," a dreamy bit of reverie about a boy who liked to go shirtless in the rain. The ascending melody line was pretty and evocative. Moore was probably planning to do "Four Leaf Clover" anyway, but someone shouted the inevitable request, so that sealed it. It's a great tune, but the following Hawaiian-themed folk song, "Kv'v Ome O kahalvv," was even better.

Not many artists can convey such palpable nostalgia with lyrics like "I remember days when we were smiling/When we laughed and sang the whole night long," but Moore fully inhabits her songs and wrenches every bit of emotion from them. Closing with the title track from Everything Changed, Moore left the crowd wanting, well, more – always a good thing.

Garrison Starr is a pistol of a performer, and her between-song banter was the funniest I think I've ever heard. Starr played solo on electric guitar, something you don't see many female performers do, so that was rather striking. Her voice is exceptional – clear, strong, effortlessly enunciating every word – so to be able to do that while playing crunching chords on an electric is no small feat.

"This song is about what many of my songs are about: getting your heart broken," said Starr to introduce "Underneath the Wheel." But she then did a shout-out to a friend named Tom in attendance, and then wryly delivered the non-sequitur, "maybe I should write more political songs." You have to be pretty darn comfortable with the audience to get away with as much talking as Starr did, but it was a riot, truthfully, and the crowd ate it up.

"Gasoline" was one of many highlights, a song that packed a real punch with both its lyrics ("Every time I get close, you get farther away") and Starr's impressive vocal range – including a striking jump to a higher register. Other terrific numbers included "Molly," which she dedicated to a couple in attendance with their daughter of that name, "Star Power," and a memorable new song called "Unchangeable," the arrangement of which sounded timeless. Starr's command of the room on songs like this was simply amazing. And despite drawing laughter with such self-aware comments as "I'm gonna stop talking cause it's just out of control now," the crowd seemed to love her energetic stories and asides.

After winding down with a popular and evocative older song, "Eighteen Over Me," Starr thanked the audience profusely for their attention and enthusiasm; the feeling was clearly mutual. She's an immensely talented gal who deserves a much wider following. And she promised the St. Louis crowd she'd be back sooner, rather than later. Let's hope that's true of both Starr and Moore, who took artful simplicity to amazing heights for this fine show. | Kevin Renick

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