Last night I abandoned my neighborhood trick-or-treaters to go see A Fine Frenzy in a Halloween night concert at The Birchmere in Alexandria. A Fine Frenzy is 24 year old Alison Sudol, and I first mentioned her in this space over a year ago , when I discovered her first record One Cell in the Sea, and its hit single "Almost Lover". At the time I described her style as "piano driven melodic melancholia", and though that description fits many of the songs on her first album, it does not describe her September release Bomb in a Bird Cage, nor does it do justice to her current live performance. For this tour Alison has foregone the sit down baby grand in exchange for a stand up electric piano, resulting in a higher energy show apropos of the punchier, upbeat, danceable songs on her second release.
And Alison delivered the energy. Opening the show with "What I Wouldn't Do", a bouncy ode to unrequited love, she brought a radiance to the stage that made it impossible to look away. I did not keep track of the set list, though my recollections tell me the band ran through 16 songs, including nine from Bomb in a Bird Cage, five from One Cell in the Sea, the unreleased "From Whence You Came", and a cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass". Sudol was at her most appealing on songs that freed her from the piano and allowed her to work the stage, including the aforementioned opening number, "Heart of Glass", "Electric Twist", and "Blow Away", the first single from the new record and the song that closed the show. On the final encore number, "Stood Up", Alison showed that she could transform into full on rocker chick. "Stood Up" worked better live than it does on the record, where electronic enhancements make it sound over-produced.
All this is not to say that she abandoned the softer piano melodies that work so well with her lovely voice. I was pleased that she performed "The Minnow and the Trout", my favorite song from "One Cell in the Sea". And of course the audience would never let her get away without "Almost Lover", and she certainly did not disappoint - when she launched into the bridge, the emotion and passion in her voice gave me goose bumps for a full 20 seconds as she sang:
"I cannot go to the ocean, I cannot drive the streets at night
I cannot wake up in the morning without you on my mind
So you're gone and I'm haunted, and I bet you are just fine
Did I make it that easy to walk right in and out of my life?"
Many of A Fine Frenzy's songs contain bird imagery, and Alison admitted she is somewhat obsessed with birds, stating "I go furniture shopping and come home with a bird sculpture. I go to get groceries and come back with a bird painting". As if I needed another reason to like her...... After the show I stayed behind with about 40 other people and was rewarded when Alison came out for a meet and greet. She signed my Birchmere cap, which I bought specifically so I would have something for her to sign if I got the chance to meet her. She also posed for a picture with me, but since I neglected to take my camera to the show, a nice (hopefully) couple behind me took the pic and promised to e-mail it to me. My fingers are crossed, and if and when I get the pic I will update this post to include it.
All in all, a much better way to spend an evening than sitting at home handing out candy to surly 12 year olds not wearing costumes.