Keren Ann concert
Most often it’s the little things. Or the quiet things. Or the things that go by at first without notice.
I spent this weekend in western Mass., in Amherst, at one of those long rural barbeques that are the strongest memories of my parents with their friends and that I now attend, all adultedly, with my own friends. It wasn’t just the good beer this weekend that made things good, or the good wings, or even the great company . . . it was that when we all at last passed out, we passed out to the sound of crickets. Having not spent a night outside the city or off the coast for what must be a year, that one silly thing, crickets, made me happy, and more quickly and with less effort than wedging another lime into a Corona.
The tone for the weekend was set by Keren Ann, a French singer-songwriter with a very small but very positive reputation in the U.S. Her concert Friday night (ahead of Juana Molina) at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston affirmed that simplicity and calm can be as seductive as a rocker playing her guitar turned up to 11.
I don’t want to break it down to that, though. It’s not really loud vs. soft. Not frenetic vs. composed. Not forthrightness vs. understatement. All of those things can be good given the right context. Keren Ann and her band—a second guitarist and a keyboardist—were emotionally inviting instead of, say, pulverizing. They forced the audience, pretty literally, to lean forward to listen. And it was a totally different experience from the other concerts I’d been to recently (Opeth, a friend’s jazz-rock band, and other higher-volumed things); it was quiet, but you heard way more. The M.F.A. crew ran the keyboards and Keren Ann’s feather-light vocals through the P.A., and the two guitars through single speakers. Imagine trying to hear the following at a louder concert:
The click of effects pedals.
The sequins of Keren Ann’s dress grazing each other as she swayed.
The difference between guitars played with a pick or the fingers—and not the sound of the guitar but the sound of the pick grazing the E-string’s coils vs. the sound of a string slipping between fingertips and fingernails.
Keren Ann—whether it’s genuine or a persona—is unfathomably demure. She wore a conservatively sparkly green dress. She introduced her bandmates as and when she should. And when she spoke between songs, she came across as someone trying not to look bothered by her shyness. “This song will make you dance,” she’d say, Frenchly, eyes down. Or “He plays the keyboard. Keyboard and stripping. And mustard.” An inside joke. And when a man in the front row requested a song, one she said she hadn’t sung in ten years, she actually tried, she tapped her guitar for percussion and a capella’ed what she could remember of the tune. I can’t imagine other bands doing something like that, mainly because they spend the whole concert forcing sound into the ears of a submissive audience. With Keren Ann, the mood was far more open. It’s the small things like that that made the concert so enjoyable. It reminded me of seeing country singer Lucinda Williams in concert two years ago—the sincerity; the complexity in the lyrics; the incomprehensibility of how the person can be so talented and so unique and yet seemingly no different than everyone else in the room; and of course the quiet, warm intensity.
For Keren Ann fans, know that she played a mix of songs from her three albums, mostly from the two recent ones (“I’m Not Going Anywhere,” and, released in March, “Nolita”). I’d like some opinions on the lyric from the Nolita title track . . . different sources have it as “I think I’m gonna stay / I think I’m gonna bury you / __ myself.” Different sources fill in the blank with “in,” “for,” and “or.” The tone of the song changes completely based on what preposition is in there. More little things!