11/10/15 – Club Passim

After descending the concrete steps to Club Passim, I was greeted by a cheery band member from The Western Den – one of the many local folk acts who perform at the low-ceilinged venue – who was checking names as guests entered.

Inside, the room was lit by the flicker of electric candles, a welcome change from the glow of smartphones that typically speckle a crowd. Amid the clank of silverware hitting ceramic and spoons scooping vanilla ice cream off plates, opener Ora Coogan performed her stripped-down set: a solo act with vocals and acoustic guitar. She sounded much like a young, timid, female version of Damien Jurado.

“I’m used to playing to bars,” she said, “It’s nice to play to a room where people just listen.”

Meanwhile, a waitress bussed tea to the audience, who gripped the handles of their mugs as they listened.

Her set came to a close, the lights flicked on for an intermission but her music continued, in a different sense: Frazey Ford started her performance with “You’re Not Free,” a track written by Coogan.

Ford and band filled the stage; Ford was accompanied by a singer, a drummer, a bassist and guitarist. Unlike Ford’s glittery pink top, which sparkled as her voice fluttered and wavered over bluesy riffs, the band’s calm, folk-pop sound is not a particularly shiny or showy– fitting for a humble venue like Club Passim.

As for the glimmering pink top: “Right before I was leaving I decided to make this shirt. It’s my classic pre-tour thing … ‘I’ve got to do a million things but I think it’s time to start a sewing project!’” she said, as a round of laughter filled the room.

She sipped her glass of beer, put down her guitar and the band began one of her calmer numbers, “Bird of Paradise,” from her first album. It’s the kind of song you’d listen to driving in the West Coast, windows down, arm out the window, air whipping around your fingers.

Unlike most performers, she didn’t save her most popular songs for last. “September Fields,” her top-played song on Spotify, came early in the set, as did “Done,” her self-proclaimed “bitch anthem.”

The music itself didn’t veer away from the recorded versions enough, even though the genre lends itself well to improvisation. But, Ford’s downright honest banter set apart her live performance from the at-home experience.

“I really love sequins a lot. Shiny things in general. It’s amazing, as you get older, you realize you’re more shallow than you thought. Really, you just like shiny shit,” she said, as the crowd chuckled.

Unlike other artists unable to connect with the crowd, her humor was certainly her strength; Ford is one who always leaves her laugh track tape at home.

She told us of the Russian village she grew up in and her dad’s love for Bob Dylan. She performed one of her favorite Dylan songs, “One More Cup of Coffee,” which someone had requested a few songs earlier.

“Wow,” whispered one guy as she finished the cover, and everyone giggled. (The Passim is too small for private commentary.)

“I like to be casual up here so people can feel like they too, could do this. Cause you too, could do this. It’s more of a workshop. Tiny bits of glory and large amounts of humiliation.”

Ford and band floated out with “In An Ocean,” but they didn’t go far when the set was over. They washed up right outside the room to meet their fans.  

Sequin-Studded Folky Soul: Frazey Ford
Pros
  • Humorous banter
  • Gave context for songs
  • Smooth performance
Cons
  • Lends itself well to improvisation, but it didn't happen often
  • Could have veered off from the recorded version more frequently
7.6Overall Score

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