Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
The petite singer-songwriter Zee Avi represents a generation of alt-rock and pop musicians that was not discovered and professionally groomed by the major record labels. In fact, it was the new social media that really launched her career.
By posting a video of one of her concert performances (and later a handful of individual songs) on YouTube, Avi’s lyrical tunes created quite a buzz in cyberspace, and eventually an avalanche of offers from a number of independent record labels came pouring in.
The Borneo-born Avi signed with Monotone Records in 2008, releasing her debut album to international critical and popular acclaim in 2009. The rest is history, albeit, still in the making.
Armed with only an acoustic guitar and his voice, Nippertown singer-songwriter Bryan Thomas had wrapped up an electrifying opening set of impassioned songs filled with wit, humor and acute observations grounded in his experiences living in the Capital District and growing up in Schenectady.
When the lights went down for Avi’s set, it was guitarist David Hurwitz playing a strange string instrument, the Sape (a large horizontal instrument resembling a cross between a miniature canoe and a guitar) that started the ball rolling.
Percussionist-drummer Rafael Pereira added hand percussion to the mix, and bassist JP Maramba set the rhythm with his upright as the spotlight settled on Zee Avi at the mic.
Switching throughout the night between a guitar, ukulele, rock-whistle, drum and, at the very end of her set, some sort of hand-held, electric synthesised box – complete with flashing lights that resembled a prop from “The Outer Limits” television show, Avi effortlessly charmed and entertained the large audience.
The tunes performed that night were drawn from both of Avi’s albums, including her newest, “Ghostbird.”
And yes, there were people pointing cell phones and pocket cameras toward the stage all night long. I bet that if you search the web, you can probably catch the show on YouTube.
Excerpt from Dave Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Sometimes lilting and exotic — she is from the island of Borneo — and other times straight-up pop music, she is uncannily comfortable on stage in an intimate setting. Her songs were short, very controlled and immediately consumable. Her singing is personal and sensual. Watching her deliver the song ‘Madness,’ she had a vaudevillian swing, playing a kazoo solo after putting down her ukulele. The audience was familiar with her single ‘The Book of Morris Johnson,’ from her second and most recent album, ‘Ghostbird.’ The small crowd sang the chorus for her.”