Sunday, June 9, 2013

Live: Ana Egge at the Bassment, in Saskatoon, June 7, 2013

Text, photos and video © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images can be enlarged by clicking on them

Social critic Neil; Postman once stated that when you look at an analog clock, you can see your whole life. When one listens to singer-songwriter Ana Egge, the line of time does not stop there, for one can see a longer expanse than one has lived.

Egge is, you see, a throwback to the days of storytellers that have that timeless, ethereal Americana sound that hovers somewhere between the English tradition, an Appalachian céilidh, the Blues, and the revisited style that made up the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou? I imagine an updated Lilith Fair-type concert series with reflective artists such as Lucinda Williams (with whom Egge has played), Alison Krauss and Rachel Harrington. That would be sweet.

In fact, a common descriptor of Egge’s voice is sweet, or angelic. Perhaps it is her (relatively) tall stature that helps with her aerie voice and presence, or perchance her often flashing of a smile as she sings, the subtle way she swings her hips as her eyes close in moments of the songs, usually during the instrumental parts.

Ironically, her songs, as glorious and musically soft as they are, can lean towards the dark side of life’s experiences, both of her own and more often of others. Her topics tell of prostitutes who helped as nurses during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918, mental illness, murder, and unstable neighborhoods.

But it is not only time that Egge transcends, it is also space. Through her life, she has been a serial mover (and hip shaker…sorry). Though born in Estevan, Saskatchewan, which is near the U.S. border, her family migrated between a farm and a commune in New Mexico and North Dakota. When she reached independence, she headed over to music city, Austin, Texas (apparently the only state she’s lived for a length of time that has a single name!) during the early ‘90s, and now resides with her wife of five years in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York.

This history has surely had two major contributions to her present life. First, it exposed her to an enormous amount of varied local music, from country and blues to other roots sounds. Second, it has given her the opportunity to understand touring as a lifestyle, something taken for granted by some who miss the grand opportunity to expose oneself to other local cultures (I’m sure that is, in part, why the house concert phenomenon is so strong right now).

Ana has played in Saskatoon before; four times in fact, with twice being back-up for others, and twice as headliner, both being at the Bassment, one of the better showcase spaces in the city. It was a dark and stormy night (okay, it wasn’t dark) when I showed up at the club with my pal Dave H. Luckily, we arrived early enough to get a table up front before the place filled up.

Opening the show was the local Little Criminals, the duo of lead fiddle by Amanda Bestvater and the rhythm guitar of Taylor Jade. Their beautiful harmonies, meandering lyrics, and soulful and haunting songs brought a nice way to start the evening. I look forward to seeing them again, and it doesn’t seem long before they’ll be headlining on their own.

As for Ana, her band came out first, consisting of Regina drummer and back-up vocalist Michael Thompson (who has pounded the skins for the likes of Jason Plumb and Serena Ryder) and Ohio-born/Brooklyn-based John Kengla, who alternated on electric guitar and bass (and looks a damn lot like Jimmy Fallon), both of whom are obviously talented.

Ana was in fine voice, and seemed to be enjoying her time on stage. It was pretty apparent the audience was enthusiastic. Mixing in music from her new CD, Bad Blood, she conveyed how she lucked into recording at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, NY (before he passed), thanks to her friend and producer, the noted Steve Earle. She also told lots of stories about how the songs she was singing came to being (looking at old salacious crime stories in newspapers from the late 1800s, for example); her spiels were long enough to be informative, and short enough not to be cumbersome, which is a perfect combination.

While she didn’t switch instruments as often as Kengla, it was nice to see play her homemade guitar for most of the set, and switch to a mandolin (without a strap to hold it up, she self-depreciatingly joked, put played just fine) and a beautiful old resonator guitar for a couple of solo covers that bookended the intermission: “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and a strikingly slow rendition of Leadbelly’s “Good Night Irene.”

There were a couple of other covers, such as a smoldering “To Love Somebody” by the Bee Gees that she invited the audience to sing along (which we did), and "Pineola" by Lucinda Williams, whom she knew in Austin. In fact, I was so enjoying the show, it was halfway through Ana’s first set that I realize I hadn’t written any notes. That says a lot, right there.

The rest of the tunes were originals from across her entire history, including “Fairest of Them All” from her first release, through ”Silver Heels,” “Hole in Your Halo” and “Walking With Wolves,” a contemplation of her Brooklyn neighbors, both off her latest. The last song was about her dad, “Motorcycles,” as she explained how he taught her how to ride when she was 5 years old (it’s a prairie’s thing, to begin operating vehicles at a young age).

After the show, I had the opportunity to introduce myself to Ana, and explain how we are seemly part of an exchange program: she went to Saskatchewan to Brooklyn, and I went in the other direction. She laughed easily as she towered over me, near the merch table to sign her CDs (I’m sure she sold a few, including to Dave, who also got the Little Criminals 5-song EP).

It was still raining and truly dark when we left for home, but the sun was shining on us internally for a good night spent in easy music company.

Partial Set List:
There Won’t Be Anymore
Quitting Early
Hole in Your Halo
Hands and Knees
Silver Heels
Bad Blood
Swing Low Sweet Chariot (traditional)
Good Night Irene (Leadbelly)
Chestnut Tree
Driving With No Hands
Fairest of Them All
Walking With the Wolves
To Love Somebody (Bee Gees)
Pineola (Lucinda Williams)


No comments:

Post a Comment