Sierra serenade

The Waifs and Erin McKeown

Big Room, Sun., Nov. 14
I arrived at the Sierra Nevada Brewery on Sunday night to find the beautiful Big Room packed, already being serenaded by tiny singer-songwriter Erin McKeown, a powerhouse of blues and jazz from Virginia. With a distinctive style at times reminiscent of Beth Orton or even Ani DiFranco, McKeown filled the house with her powerful and unique vocals accompanied by a single guitar.

McKeown sang of love and politics, at one point encouraging the audience to “think of one thing we don’t want to be responsible for,” and to give voice to our feeling by picking a note and singing: “oh.” We all raised our voices and our intent and celebrated the fact that we live in a “blue state … [where] we did our job,” as the clearly liberal majority cheered for our lack of “responsibility” for the current administration.

Feeling buoyed by the effervescent McKeown, the crowd welcomed The Waifs with a vocal display of love, which the band returned in favor. The four musicians from Australia, plus one Canadian to “bridge the gap,” opened with the luminous ballad “Willow Tree” included on the brand-new live double album, The Waifs, a brief history…LIVE.

The gorgeous, buttery vocal harmonies of the Simpson sisters, Vikki (also on harmonica and guitar) and Donna (guitar, tambourine), layered over the sweet guitar of Josh Cunningham and blended seamlessly with the bass guitar of “Zen” Ben Franz and Dave McDonald’s drumming.

A little folk, a little country, blues, and a whole lotta soul sums up The Waifs.

Their lyrics talk of birth and death, and each song was performed with so much heart, talent, and poignancy that I felt my chest swell a little tighter, filled with the joy of simply listening and being alive.