Event Review: Jolie Holland at the Nightlight Lounge

Yes, it's true: the marvellous Jolie Holland actually made her way to Bellingham while touring to promote her new album, Springtime Can Kill You.

And yes, I was there.

For those of you not familiar with Miss Holland's music, I'm afraid I'm not a whole lot of help--you see, she's difficult to describe. The closest I've come is a weak comparison to Billie Holiday, with an old timey acoustic finger-pickin' guitar for accompaniment; her melodies are eerie, unpredictable and gorgeous, and while the songs and the guitar are one thing, her voice is something completely other. Over the course of the last two months, with the purchase of both her debut, Catalpa, and her sophomore album, Escondida, I've fallen completely in love with Holland's complicated, bewitching sound.

Imagine my joy when I found out she'd be playing in Bellingham.

Sean Hayes, a fellow I'd never heard of (but had somehow become convinced was from England--he was not from England. I didn't catch where he was from, but it was not England), opened, and he was intriguing enough that Mitch and I bought a copy of Big Black Hole & The Little Star--we have not been disappointed so far. On his last few songs, Jolie Holland came on stage and harmonized with him, which made for an enchanting duet or two, and a sufficient lead-in for Holland's set.

And her set was good, definately. Her voice was every bit as chilling as it ought to be live, but truly she wasn't the most gracious of performers: she sound-checked her way right through the first song, and talked down to the audience, and denied us a much-requested encore. I was not impressed, really, and that made me sad.

However, the music was amazing, and not to be sniffed at: Jolie Holland has the best whistle I've ever heard, and her versatility as she switched from piano to guitar to tambourine to box fiddle (often in the same song) was awesome to watch. When she played "Mad Tom of Bedlam", I got the shivers, and the shivers didn't stop til after she finished "Old Fashioned Morphine." All in all, it was an excellent show, but it missed one key ingredient: Holland didn't seem to be enjoying herself much. That also made me sad.


Lord FluffyBunny said...

After reading this I was moved to sample her on iTunes. You said that her melodies are eerie, and that's true, but so is her voice, suggesting a distant, malicious shadow on a foggy marsh at midnight. She somehow manages to sing both behind the beat and above the melody. As if that's not enough, she treats her voice more like a musical instrument than a conduit for words. If that doesn't make sense, just listen to one of her songs and imagine that same voice speaking instead of singing. And if she's unlikeable, so much the better, because her music isn't nice. It's excellent.

Thea said...

Which songs did you listen to? Nearly all of them are amazing, and I have all of her CDs, if you'd like to borrow some. My favorite songs are the two I mentioned (Old Fashioned Morphine & Mad Tom of Bedlam), plus Black Hand Blues.

She definately uses her voice like an instrument, especially on her first new CDs. The newest one has more clearly defined melodies, which is not bad--just different. There's something completely charming about the way she manuevers her voice through a song...