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Sam Phillips at the Somerville Theatre

This was a good show. Why have I not seen her in concert sooner ?

Maeve opened with a short set of folky-gospelly type stuff that was pretty well done (and their stage patter is pretty charming), but wasn't exactly my cup of tea. Still, they could be going places - they certainly received a lot of support from the audience.

Before Sam came on, I very briefly checked out the new digs of the Museum of Bad Art. Wow, I didn't know the depths of Badness were that, well, deep.

Sam opened with “I Need Love,” which most people recall as the song that made Liv Tyler seem deeper than she really was in Stealing Beauty. When Sam plays electric guitar, she doesn't really move like she's a “rock” guitar player, and the tone was one of melodic, rich distortion. The bass was almost subsonic, the pace, much slower than the original, and the drums were muffled and low. I don't know if she's aiming for any sound in particular in this kind of arrangement, but she and her band had come a lot closer to a My Bloody Valentine kind of feel in a much more organic way than the legion of MBV followers in the 1990s. (Kevin Shields would probably agree – the “secret” in the production is actually in the careful treatment of very few guitar tracks, instead of just piling on the effects, as most people had wrongly assumed.)

Most of the set covered the new album and the few that came before it (starting with Fan Dance), when she jettisoned relatively conventional alternative pop structures with a stripped down sound that forced every element of the recordings – percussion, voice, guitar, lyrics – to carry the weight of the song, with nothing to hide behind. So, if you'd heard those albums, you were getting the real deal when performs live.

I also liked what she did with “Animals On Wheels,” a song from Omnipop. It was just her singing and a distorted, simple (piano ?) backing track played on a handheld dictaphone or similar cheap voice tape recorder. In a few places she'd shake the tape machine to make a little vibrato. Way cool !

The approach to the encore was similarly refreshing. Before the last song, she asked us if we wanted one. We said yes, naturally.

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