Bell @ Sidewalk Cafe, 1-6-07
Writing about a show twenty days after it hapened? Surely, that's got to be against some unspoken blogger commandment or at least cast some serious doubts on my time management skills. But no, it was just my recalcitrant computer first, then my uncooperative camera next, that slowed my step. After clearing those obstacles, I thought about scrapping the writeup to focus on concerts I'd seen more recently, albums currently closer to my ear. I mean, twenty days—nearly three weeks—on a blogger's timeline is more like three months. But there's something about the Bell performance that still resonates. There was a quality about it that convinced me that it was worth coming back to.
I went to the show for two reasons. First, it was part of my effort to dive back into New York's local music scene. Also, I'd been reading really effusive praise about Bell on Ear Farm, and wanted to see what the clamor was all about. So I met up with Matt from Ear Farm on a chilly night in January to judge firsthand. Around nine o'clock, after weathering a mediocre opener (and later followed by an awful successor), Olga Bell and her band claimed the tiny stage. Olga was backed by Jason Nazary on drums and Mike Chiavaro on bass, but it was her singing and piano playing that rightfully led the way.
Introducing songs, Bell came off as sweet and endearing, and those characteristics often found their way into the music. Her predominant style was a jazzy pop-rock; it was most obviously reminiscent of another Sidewalk Cafe alum, Regina Spektor. I also caught shades of Extraordinary Machine-era Fiona Apple and acoustic Bjork. And similarly to those singers, Bell's greatest asset for me is the credibility that she invests in her songs. It was evident that she was feeling the full force of her words throughout. Whether it was striking a tone of joy or hitting a stretch of longing, she sold the message like a true believer.
The band also did three covers, which helped to further confirm their talent. First was a sadcore transformation of The Go-Go's "Vacation" where "Vacation, all I ever wanted" took on new levels of weary craving. Bell sounded a lot like an overworked clock-puncher whose days off are long in the distance. They also did an apparently-trademark take on Skee-Lo's 1995 "I Wish," which came off not ironic so much as playful, and a simple, lovely interpretation of Bjork's "Unison." As with her own material, Bell sang the central line, "Let's unite tonight," with an inspiring devotion and desire.
Unfortunately, the set was second in a four-band lineup and it only lasted about forty minutes. I could've happily listened to a set twice its length. At least, I rationalized, it'd leave me coming back for more. And sure enough, even after twenty days, even after I've encountered technical difficulties and an onslaught of new music, it's still on my mind.
Bell will be performing a song at Covers For The Cure at Joe's Pub tomorrow and a free set at Rockwood Music Hall on January 31st.
Check out Matt from Ear Farm's writeup of the night here.
* MP3: "Expanding River" - Bell
* MP3: "Moon River" - Bell
* Band MySpace: Bell
Tags: Bell, Olga Bell, Sidewalk Cafe, New York, MP3