PAMELA MEANS opening for Ember Swift at Healey's, May 24. Tickets: $10. Attendance: 210. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
With her baggy shorts and teased-out 'fro, Boston folkie Pamela Means looked eerily like a cross between Moldy Peaches fright-wigged femme Kimya Dawson and the Melvins' Buzz Osborne when she shuffled onto the stage at Healey's Friday night. Unfortunately, she lacked the charisma of either artist. Means has a powerful, bluesy voice and amazing guitar skills: Ani DiFranco meets Jimi Hendrix, with a violent, stuttering axe attack rocking out into intense riffs. She deserves major props for using an effects pedal with her acoustic guitar -- her sound was so big it was hard to believe it was all coming from one small woman.
Too bad it was nearly impossible to make out her lyrics. I'd blame the sound system, but headliner Ember Swift came in crystal clear during her set.
Means would be a phenomenal performer if she could muster up a strong stage presence. She had a hard time making eye contact, focusing instead on her fingers and the floor, and she was so sweet and soft-spoken that the inter-song anecdotes were unintelligible.
But, hey, you've gotta respect a chick who rocks so hard she's got a hole in the body of her guitar.
In comparison, crowd fave Swift was on her game. Cute in a cowboy hat and multicoloured braids, she charmed with captivating banter and solid instrumental jams between songs. Swift is the queen of maintaining explosive energy throughout a set.
And her backing band is made up of some very tight musicians. Sexy Lyndell Montgomery wowed on electric violin, fleshing out Swift's folk-punk acoustic guitar tunes with bluegrass interludes and classically inspired accents when she wasn't busting out funk licks on bass, while drummer Michelle Josef (Hey Stella, Prairie Oyster) held down the rhythm section.
I just wish Swift mixed things up a bit more. She's a little too obsessed with the Ani-ish funk/punk gimmick, and the set felt naggingly familiar. She shone whenever she deviated from the formula as on one stunning 50s-style doo-wop number that showed off her powerful pipes.
Still, how many other people would have an entire roomful of dykes chanting in unison, "I boinked the bride"?