SONiA brings a passionate message to Moxie’s
“I would love never to sing ‘Is There Anybody Here?’ again,” lead singer/guitarist/harmonica player Sonia Rutstein (SONiA) of Baltimore’s Disappear Fear has been quoted as saying. “I wish that song was obsolete. But until it is, I’m gonna be singing it.”
SONiA remained true to her word at her recent Chico show, performing ‘60s folk singer Phil Ochs’ moving war protest song late in the evening at Moxie’s after introducing it as being a song by “a hero of mine.”
“Is there anybody here who’d like to change his clothes into a uniform?” SONiA sang in her passionate, yet never overwrought, way. “… Is there anyone here who thinks that following orders takes away the blame?/ Is there anyone here who wouldn’t mind a murder by another name?/ …I want to see him, I want to wish him luck/ I want to shake his hand…/ Pin a medal on the man.”
Accompanied by Angela Edge on electric bass and trumpet and Laura Cerulli on drums and back-up vocals, SONiA—kind of a female Bob Dylan—led her trio through song after satisfying song, both originals and covers. The band’s nearby merchandise table—draped with a rainbow flag printed with the words “Disappear Fear” and featuring a number of message T-shirts, including one silently urging us to “Love Out Loud"—served as an appropriate prop to further the pro-love theme emanating all night long from the little stage.
Cerulli’s drumming on her scaled-down kit, which included a conga that she played at times with sticks rather than her hands, was notable. It was always supporting the trio with perfect timing and choice of percussive sounds. For instance, she moved from playing smoothly with brushes on one song to a driving primal beat on another, which included an impressive drum roll (with sticks) on the conga. Even more impressive is the fact that Cerulli sings, and sings well, while drumming, a more difficult feat than one might imagine.
SONiA came back on stage alone after the band’s short break between sets. The self-described “hippie” and gay-and-lesbian activist, with her patched blue jeans and beaded dreadlocks tied back into a ponytail, seemed both vulnerable and strong as she sang several songs by herself before her band mates rejoined her.
Accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, she re-did late blues man Willie Dixon’s “My Babe": “My babe don’t stand no cheating, my babe/ Whoa no, she don’t stand no cheating, my babe…/ Don’t do nothing but kiss and hug me/ My babe…” SONiA’s gentle, folksy delivery and altered chords, and her lesbian twist on the lyrics achieved by simply directing them to a woman as Dixon did, made for a refreshing reworking of a very familiar song.
Following the Dixon song, SONiA, still alone, sang a very pretty love song containing the movingly sung lyrics: “I put a box of tissues next to my bed/ Because I knew I’d be up forever waiting for you…” Her occasionally long-sustained vocal notes on this song were exquisite, prompting a man in the audience to exclaim at song’s end: “Beautiful!”
Whether singing of her love for another person or her love for humanity, SONiA’s message comes across with a calm strength and beauty that transcends sexual or national dividing lines.