Jen Awad, Maxim Ludwig, Dream Machines At The Troubadour, Wednesday July 11th 2018
There are singer songwriters who perform their songs as they have recorded them, and there are performers who transform their music and unleash a formidable energy while giving the songs a new life each time,… and Jen Awad is one of these performers. On Wednesday night, the flamboyant artist opened the show at the Troubadour, sounding like a hurricane of soul while delivering a series of timeless songs like an old queen of R&B. She may be a petite woman, but Jen Awad sees big and bold, and when she gets on stage, you may get two strong impressions right away: first her over-the-top personality may eclipse everything else in the room, then she immediately gives you the feeling that nobody should mess up with her… she has a horn-driven song called ‘Basic Bitch’, and she means it, although Jen is not the bitch of the story. Don’t get me wrong she was all-smile all-set-long, but as soon as she started one of her powerhouse songs, the energy around her red-light-catching outfit got so intense, that nothing else mattered.
Whenever she performed songs from her last EP, such as the foot-stomping heartbreak ‘Love is Dead’, the mean-diva-esque ‘Break a Man’, the Amy-Winehouse-channeling sexy ‘Thirsty’, or even any of her get-an-extinguisher anthems, the reaction of the crowd around the stage was the same: intense cheering. Meanwhile, a dedicated young woman was repetitively passing a towel to Jen, who could not dry out her sweaty performance.
Surrounded by a large ensemble (around 13 musicians this time), including an excellent horn section, several keyboards and back up singers, I can guarantee you that the Jen Awad phenomenon will take you by surprise, with songs weighing their heavy ton of soul, constantly boosted by a tireless performer. On stage, her fashion-designer background always makes her pay attention to extravagant details – she was wearing a sparkling red bra, a lace mini skirt, a Spanish sweep train and red roses in her hair – while her almighty croon exceeded a Phil Spector dream… I used the term timeless at the beginning because there is an instant-classic quality to Jen Awad’s music, her familiar-at-the-first-listening songs are fueled by an inspiration straight from the ’60s girl groups and other princesses of soul, but she undeniably brings a fresh new fire to the genre.
She invited Dream Machines’ singer, Harry May Kline, to cover the Eagles’ ‘One of these nights’, and she kept the show all fired-up till the end, with the self-consuming disco-floor of ‘Shackle Up’. A Jen Awad’s live gig is some euphoric experience, led by a passionate and fearless storm, who channels Etta James’ soul with bravado and drama.
Maxim Ludwig had the hard task to follow, but he was also a very entertaining performer, with stage eccentricities that could fall right between Father John Misty and Jonathan Richman’s. This guy was a dancer, a mic swinger, a seducer, and a close-talker kissing people’s cheek, then he was dancing his way back on stage after climbing the stage light poles or visiting the Troubadour mezzanine. Meanwhile the music was oscillating between his layered personalities, between smart infectious pop, enthusiastic rock with keyboard and soulful odes with horns… but there was also a harmonica in the mix, blurring the genres a bit more. After a grand entrance on stage, he stayed restless with a high falsetto, a moody theatricality and plenty of high ooo-ooos. He explained his song ‘Show Me’ was about ‘Receiving dirty text messages, while ‘Assembly Line’ was about another personal experience: ‘Years ago, I quit music to package CDs,… and that’s a song about this’. With a hot number like his, and a song called ‘Make it Hurt’, it was somewhat difficult to figure out Maxim Ludwig in 40 minutes, one minute he was a charmer, and the next an eccentric aloof dancer with a catchy and soulful dancefloor (‘Bad Directions’),… But he was doing an exercise between charming and motherfucker with songs from his 2017 ‘Libra-Scorpio Cusp’ and more recent single releases.
Dream Machines are surely a mood booster bunch, it was not my first time seeing the large ensemble, and if a few songs (such as the soulful electro hymn ‘Fate’) were a departure from their usual exuberance, the rest was split between heartfelt soaring choruses and pure dance party. From the ascending ‘Started at One’ and its Springsteen-esque sax, to the percussive ‘All Dressed Up For It’ and its Prince’s Revolution funkiness, there was plenty to love in Dream Machines’ set of colorful wonders. The songs, led by Harry May Kline’s high falsetto and Luke Burba’s saxophone were sweating ‘80s dancefloors, reaching their best peak during ‘Playback’ and ‘Feel it’, triggering some repetitive euphoric effects on the crowd. Dream Machines delivered the revival grooves and sweaty sing-alongs, the sax solos and the colorful disco typhoons. And when a band ends its set with a cover of Cher’s ‘Believe’, you know exactly where you are, in the core of one of the most prominent gay neighborhoods in the US, but I hardly needed this detail while watching the vibrant dancefloor they had installed.