Click the photo for a slideshow from the concert. All photos by Laura Musselman.
June 23, 2007
Better Than: Sobbing in
June 23, 2007
Better Than: Sobbing in your beer after getting dumped, even if it sometimes felt that way.
"Thank you for coming out to the afternoon jamboree," Eleni Mandell noted by way of introduction. Indeed, the thirtysomething L.A. songstress and her three backing musicians took the stage of the three-quarters-full Tractor Tavern a little past 6:30 p.m., as ambience-threatening light streamed in from open doors both to the right of the stage and in the back of the room. Still, Mandell's songs were, for the most part, dark enough to more than compensate.
Clad in a vintagey, flower-patterned dress, Mandell stood at center stage, strummed her small acoustic guitar, and moved little, save for the occasional, delicate sway of her hips to the shuffling beat. Her vocal delivery, resonant but not acrobatic, had shades of Patsy Cline, Chrissie Hynde, and both Cat Power and Polly Jean Harvey in their more subdued moments. Mandell seemed a bit aloof, perhaps even sulky at times (she also seemed particularly rattled when, just a few songs in, she broke a string), but her presence was certainly in keeping with the moody nature of her roots-noir oeuvre. Drawing mainly from her recently released sixth full-length, Miracle of Five, Mandell and band swept through 11 songs in 40 minutes, kicking off with the Miracle opener "Moonglow, Lamp Low" -- really the perfect song to soundtrack your most lovelorn, bourbon-drenched, wee-hour moments slumped in cracked vinyl bar booths.
Mandell's rhythm section was sturdy, elegant, and restrained during "Wings in His Eyes" and "Girls"; so was guitarist Jeremy Drake, although he occasionally cut loose with a few twangy, surf-blues licks that added some nice bite and underscored his frontwoman's dusky visions. That all came together best in the cheater's tale "Pauline" and, most acutely, in "My Twin" -- a smoky, propulsive, evocative number Nick Cave might like to call his own -- in which Mandell intoned, "Why did that train derail?/201 victims were killed/Was my twin among the dead?/Was my twin expected to live?"
Before sliding into one new tune, Mandell announced, "This is a song about liking someone who doesn't like you back." Once it was over, she said, drily, "How could anyone not like me? It's a mind-boggler." Anyone drawn to the dark side would have to agree.
Personal Bias: Early show = early drinkin'!
Random Detail: Eleni nearly poked an eye out with the extra bit of replaced guitar string jutting out of the headstock. That would have been bad.