The Staves And Mikaela Davis At The Troubadour on Wednesday February 22nd 2017
I got the chance to check out the Staves at the Troubadour on Wednesday night, and just after the Ryan Adams concert at Amoeba, I drove to the famous LA club to see the Justin-Vernon-produced UK band. It was a rare opportunity as the three sisters sold out two shows in a row in LA, as they were playing at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever the night before.
Before the Staves, Mikaela Davis charmed the audience with her great voice and her magic harp. Now, a harp and a lovely girl is not so uncommon these days, you obviously have to think about Joanna Newsom. However Mikaela’s songwriting was more in the folk tradition, less odd and convoluted than Newsom’s, with a pure and crystalline voice, often ethereal but still human, shone high above the delicate strings. Plus she covered Elliott Smith’s ‘Half Right’, with a surprising elegance, even when she arrived at the line ‘Motherfucker turned white as a ghost’, so that was it for me, I was under the spell. Her harp was surprisingly transforming itself into a different instrument according to the songs, getting more rhythmical, a bit like a bass line during a song with a slight country vibe. ‘Ten More songs!’ screamed someone in the crowd.
Apparently, a lot of people knew about the Staves, although I had never heard about the British band. They got in the radar of many because they toured with Bon Iver, and because their unique harmonies are so striking that, once you have heard them, you cannot forget these polyphonic warm forest of voices. The three sisters stood behind three keyboards and electronic tables, and if their songs often started with pure voices, pulsating and vibrating, more and more complexity was slightly added to their fragile beginning, and layers and layers of harmonies would wake up the songs. A guy was discretely backing them on drums and percussion while their three-part harmonies were reaching fascinating heights of perfection.
I should say that I particularly enjoyed the first part of their show, as they brought some fire into these delicate harmonies, it was a sort of folk on electronics, an updated version of these famous Laurel Canyon 70s harmonies, and for this, you would just have to imagine what Crosby Stills and Nash, or Peter, Paul and Mary could have done with electronica. Their first songs were dynamic and spacious, with the addition of guitar and bass, beautifully blending in their ethereal polyphony, culminating with ‘Black and White’, an Americana with a spaghetti taste and of course more of these pitch-to-perfect harmonies.
However, this story became much more sleepy and far less audacious after a while, with songs like ‘Make it Holy’, ‘Sadness Don’t Own Me’, ‘Train Tracks’… People were still remarkably captivated, even more than before as a matter of fact, like hypnotized by the floating keys and completely drunk on the sisters’ looping voices … And just when I was thinking this set was turning a bit too holy-churchy, they came up with a bolder song ‘Tired as Fuck’, which is their most recent single, and a tune with a bigger sound and an almost slow-down disco beat.
They came back for an acoustic encore with a Jackson Browne homage (‘These Days’) which seemed to be an obligatory pass as the sisters were well aware of the Troubadour’s legendary past, and ‘Mexico’, a song providing them an occasion to get a bit political – they were selling some merchandize to raise money for refugee camps.
Overall, they had a pure folksy Americana vibe, like this other sister-duo, First Aid Kit, an observation that could make you believe that pure harmonies can only be reached by siblings and rootsy American folk is better served by British or Swedish.
Black & White
Sleeping in a car
Make it Holy
Sadness Don’t Own Me
Damn it All
Tired as Fuck
Blood I Bled
No Me No You. No More
Let Me Down