BETH ORTON with WILLY MASON at the Carlu, April 6. Tickets: $28.50. Attendance: 1100. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Martha's Vineyard-born singer/songwriter Willy Mason (who'll open for Radiohead in the UK for two weeks in May) cut deep into a slice of American pie atop the College Park mall at the Carlu last Thursday eve.
Further folkifying numbers from his Where The Humans Eat album, Mason's porch-whittling witticisms were garnished by accompanist Nina Violet . In addition to providing some precisely synched harmonies, the dreadlocked supporter's blue violin lines wouldn't have been out of place in a Ken Burns doc.
Mason's wise lyrics (something he has in common with friend Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes) and Cash-like baritone both sound like they should be pouring out of someone older than 21.
This was best proved by the performance of Oxygen, a catchy, trawling song that brings a very modern perspective to a classic folk aesthetic. Singing about wanting to speak to the kids louder than Ritalin, Mason was in the midst of wrapping a wry and mellow set when someone flipped all the house lights - a gesture that felt like, "OK, time's up, hippie."
Perhaps that's why he ended with a pithy "Thanks for coming all the way up to the top of this shopping mall to see me."
Which was fine for most folks in attendance - who collectively came off like a 1,000-person extension of the OC cast - here for Norfolk, UK's Beth Orton .
Bouncing back after a show-cancelling two-day bout with bronchitis earlier in the month, the erstwhile William Orbit co-worker came out with a five-member band and ran through her best during a robust 90 minutes that included Comfort Of Strangers (sharpened to a point by Matt Johnson 's brittle percussion), a lush Heart Of Soul and a soothing Sweetest Decline.
The only drawback was that everything was a little too laid-back, almost too lullingly pretty and softly acoustic. Orton has an unusual voice that can at times take on a dozen different shades within one vocal run, but rarely did she really rock out.
The naturally timid singer did, however, cut loose between songs swearing, giggling after accidentally calling tech guy Colby "Cody," taking requests mid-set and, in her gutsiest move, proclaiming with practical sass, "I think someone should turn the lights off in the back and close the doors!"
Her demands were not met.