Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chapin Sisters at the Living Room

There were a lot of comments about the heat and humidity at the Living Room last night - but hell, it's Summer! And the Living Room, is a comfy, lived-in kinda venue and you expect it not to be a highly artificial, climate-controlled enviroment. Honestly, I prefer situations that are what they is and is in synch with the seasons and the time of day etc rather than some abstracted, homogenized version of "ideal conditions."And oddly enough, last time I saw the Chapin Sisters at the Living Room it was back in early Spring during a freak heat wave, so the temperature thing seems like a tradition already!

Since that last show, Lily and Abigail have logged in MANY woman-hours singing on big stages as backing singers for She & Him. And the road work has paid off handsomely. They had lovely, expert voices to begin with - developed from years of singing together, and that within the context of a highly musical family of jazz players and folk revival singer/players including their Grammy Award winning pops, Tom, and their late uncle, Harry. Pretty much constant gigging with She & Him and then opening for them in their own right, playing their own headlining dates etc. has honed their vocal abilities to awesome levels of expertise.

In the Chapin Sisters, Abigail and Lily (and their half sister Jessica early on), tended towards the ambitious in structuring their vocal harmonies; their command of the basics is authoritative and this leaves them hungry for challenge. Their melody lines start standard and sweet then swing to more daring territory - high, wild and free. Last night they attempted a lot of pretty nervy singing, jumping octaves, running thru all sorts of tricksy harmonic intervals and nailing each and every one with stunning power.

They begin with a very cool combination of Abigail's higher, brighter voice and Lily's lower and duskier - so they cover a lot of melodic and timbral ground even with just two voices. They introduce further variety by starting out a capella on "Sweet Light" (from the upcoming album "Two"), both picking up acoustic guitars (which they tend to pick rather than strum -- owing to the old folkie traditions they grew up saturated in), Lily occasionally putting down her guitar to wield a tambourine or banjo.

After rendering songs from their debut "Lake Bottom LP" they did up their bravura acoustic reading of the Britney Spears' hit "Toxic" -- Abigail mightily impressive with purty courageous vocal acrobatics -- followed by Doc Watson's "Long Journey." This is the firt time I'd seen 'em tackle, "Toxic" -- originally recorded at the urging of their brother Jonathan Craven as a lark -- won them the attention of KCRW and other radio programmers right at the outset of their career and it was a treat.

Eventually they brought out a rhythm section including Gang Gang Dance drummer Jesse Lee who co-produced "Two" and a stand up bassist -- a nice complement to their sound.

The Chapins ended the set with "Digging A Hole," a stand out track from "Two" that is typical of their ouevre -- minor key melody, mid-tempo beat -- lyrics that evince romantic fatalism, but from the viewpoint of women who don't fear being alone rather than putting up with an unsatisfactory relationship. Some of their songs are forthright kiss offs, bidding their guy to leave and find someone who'll love 'em. Others document indulgence in a temporary fling owing to a little too much booze, or a brief respite from isolation or even just caprice. You sense these ladies are fans of love and romance but not at the expense of other matters as or more important to them.

This could have been more detailed but after the show we headed around the corner to San Loco and had some great chow and I had one of their lethal sangria's -- clearly red wine, fruit and some serious LIQUOR.