A woman alone

I first saw Sandi Leeper a few years ago at the old True Love Coffeehouse open-mic. She appeared without an instrument and sang a couple of songs without any accompaniment. It was stunning. What I expected was a high, fragile voice referencing indie-rock sensibilities. What I heard, though, was a full-bodied, clear tone with dark, papery hues. It was remarkable and all the more so because it appeared to be just a quick, almost thoughtless performance.

At the time, Leeper was in a band called Pyre. It was a band I never had the opportunity to see, for Pyre disbanded soon thereafter. Next came a year or two in the Wesley James-fronted band Killing Buddha (now Via Madrone), but that, too, came to an end.

Post-Killing Buddha, one might expect Leeper to step out on her own with increased regularity, but that hasn’t really been the case. Her shows have been pretty rare. It was surprising, therefore, to see her name pop up on an unlikely local calendar: that of Roseville’s Owl Club. I recently criticized the venue for what I perceived as poor treatment of bands (particularly in relation to set times), and I felt it was time to poke my head through the door again to see if anything had changed. Being able to check in on Sandi Leeper at the same time was a double dip I could not pass up.

Leeper’s set was solo, although she introduced her Fantom keyboard and drum sampler as band members and mentioned in passing that she sometimes performs with a bass player. (I assume she means a living, breathing bassist and not a computer, sampler or robot.) Her set was essentially composed of electro-pop songs, mostly performed with piano and sung with that same full, sure tone I heard years ago. Fans of Tori Amos could relate, although it would be reductive and somewhat obvious to compare her too quickly to Amos. The similarities in style are mostly in her use of bass keys to drive the rhythm, but not particularly in her vocal style.

Unfortunately, the patrons of the Owl Club more or less talked through Leeper’s set. To be fair, though, the set wasn’t particularly interesting visually. A lone woman playing a keyboard and singing just isn’t as energetic as a full band, and the patrons of the Owl Club tend to have a pretty short attention span.

In terms of the club itself, the sets seemed to move by relatively smoothly this time, although some technical difficulties slowed things down repeatedly, both before Leeper performed and between individual sets. It also might be noted that Leeper’s question from the stage—"Do I have time for one more or two more?"—was met with resounding silence. “OK, I guess I’ll play two more then” was her mirthful response.

In other news, Sacramento expatriate Gwamba has announced that legendary Sacramento band the Okra Pickles has reunited, without its longtime bassist, Clovis. The Pickles will be passing this way on tour in August for shows at the Palms Playhouse in Winters and Cooper’s in Nevada City.