Last Night: A Fine Frenzy at the House of Blues

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Last Night: A Fine Frenzy, Landon Pigg, Among the Oak & Ash at the House of Blues Anaheim; Nov. 18, 2009

Better Than: Watching any one of a bevvy of vacuous female piano torch singers in today's wasteland of a music market. Way Better.


It was one of those nights. In what potentially was a portent for the rest of the evening, the burly bouncer at the House of Blues' entrance told us our photo pass was denied and that we would have to either check our camera downstairs or hoof it back through the mammoth Disney parking lot and stow it in our car (we checked it).

Inside, the sound system predictably piped in Death Cab for Cutie as clusters of 20 somethings sat around small tables sipping overpriced drinks.

The venue floor was a bustle with hipsters too cultured for the throngs of tourists pushing strollers around downtown Disney, and too well-groomed for the Silverlake set. It was one of those nights indeed.

Yet when the stage curtains parted, revealing crimson-haired stunner Alison Sudol and her band, A Fine Frenzy, things seemed to take a turn for the better.

Delivering songs in the tradition of such fem-fronted ensembles as Rilo Kiley, or Regina Spektor, A Fine Frenzy presented a set that was at all times dazzling, occasionally sentimental and dare we say, manic.



Standing over a keyboard and emphatically pounding out melodies, Sudol initially thrashed her head, draping her fiery locks across the ivories.

At other times, armed with only a microphone, she shimmied and undulated coquettishly as she sang themes of love and love lost. At one point her face contorted into a grimace while she sang the line, "You'll go on and I'll be happier."

Supporting the 24-year-old Seattle native was a small band that  rotated between, and deftly wielded, a menagerie of instruments including a banjo, pedal steel guitar, various keyboards and a mandolin.

Yet despite the display of passion and proficiency, the audience in front of the stage curiously reacted with little more than a sway reminiscent of a growth of toulies sprouting from  a small stream.  This phenomenon was at its most bizarre when the band broke into an unexpected rendition of Blondie's "Heart of Glass," wherein Sudol's best efforts to engage  the audience with clapping and mirthful dancing seemed largely ineffective.

While comparisons to acts as Rilo Kiley may be inevitable, what comes across in Sudol's work, and what is at times absent in the former, is the unadulterated joy so evident in  her presentation--even when her lyrics deal with the melancholy.

At one point, before singing the torch song "Almost Lover," Sudol explains to the crowd, "When I wrote this song, I felt utterly alone.  And while it's a sad thing, it unites us."  Then, while singing the chorus, "Should have known you'd bring me heartache, almost lovers always do," she gently asks the crowd to join in, and suddenly everyone in the room is softly cooing along. Indeed, it was one of those nights



Critics Notebook:

Personal Bias: Alison Sudol oozes sexual charisma.  That may have affected my ability to write an objective review.

Random Detail: Sudol and her band took the time following the show to chat with fans. Oddly enough, there wasn't much of a line to talk to the band.



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