Like a hug: Jessica Malone had a smile the size of her face. The local singer-songwriter was beaming as she played two separate sets with two different backing bands at the Torch Club in celebration of the release of her album, Miles Left to Walk. She even sat in as backing vocalist for Eugene, Ore., singer-songwriter Caitlin Jemma, who played in between the sets.
Though the club hadn’t quite reached capacity, it lacked for elbow room, a surprising feat considering it was a Wednesday night. The audience ranged in age from early 20s to late 70s. One multigenerational group crowded around the merch booth, singing along to every song. Considering Malone’s intimacy and interaction with the crowd, I wondered how many of them were family. They certainly seemed invested in her success.
Though she played a long time—three consecutive sets is no small feat—her joyful, grateful spirit didn’t waver. “I’ve hugged most of you already. If I haven’t, I’ll hug you after the show,” she said halfway through her first set.
Malone’s relaxing onstage demeanor engaged the crowd. She sang with passion, but restraint. When she did let loose on those rare occasions, it packed a punch. Her in-place dancing and flirtatious lip curls told their own sly, mysterious story.
The show was part of an eight-city album release tour with Jemma that started the Friday prior in Monterey. Jemma played rootsy Americana music that Malone accompanied nicely with her vocals. Malone’s music was harder to pin down. Songs drifted between the realms of funk, jazz, blues, roots-rock and power-pop. The unifying factor can best be described as a feel-good inspirational vibe that seemed honest and unfiltered.
The final set was reserved mostly for new songs. Her songwriting, while still diverse, has evolved a stronger pop edge to it. After one of the newest tunes, someone in the audience by the merch booth yelled out, “That’s the hit song right there!”
Malone smiled and just continued on to the next song. There was clearly nothing on her mind besides singing on the Torch Club stage.
Choosing darkness: California singer-songwriter Garrett Pierce returned to Sacramento for an intimate and low-lit show on February 22. The former local showcased a diverse body of work, including both old favorites and new songs off his upcoming album Dusk. He received a hometown welcome of more than 50 people at Warehouse Artist Lofts—despite his move to Sonoma County.
The concert brought both Pierce and Crossbill Records labelmate Tom Brosseau to a cool studio space in the heart of downtown, which gave the night a cozy vibe. Payam Bavafa of San Francisco trio Sholi joined the indie-folk singer on electric guitar. The sound of Pierce’s classic acoustic guitar intertwined skillfully with that more modern instrument. The bittersweet songs were brutally honest.
Among his unreleased songs, Pierce played “Greyhound Song,” which he said he wrote about “being so broke you can afford a greyhound ticket out of town but not the tacos.” The slow song spoke of hard times, and resonated with the crowd of clapping audience members. With their somber tone, these tunes fit the mellow vibe of the concert with its couch seating. Pierce writes the type of music you listen to while lying on your bedroom floor.
The song lineup also included haunting songs like “Lioness & Lion” from 2009’s All Masks. In a nice contrast to his slower tracks, “All Souls’ Day,” featured Spanish twang off of 2006’s Like A Moth.
Pierce closed out the night by letting the crowd choose a light or dark song, and once the audience chose the latter, he offered to be the light in the darkness.