Even before Lindsay Heath Orchestra took to the stage the bar buzzed, audience members staked out their claim near the stage and members from all bands ordered rounds of courage in anticipation of the one of the two final City Weekly Music Awards showcases.
Heath herself looked ready for battle, war-painted and armed with drumsticks. She likes to use the latter to attack the drums while she sings, rhythmically buttressing her impressive voice. After the first couple passionate incursions, Heath called up the cavalry (a bassist and drummer), picked up her guitar, and led an orchestral charge of epic proportions. LHO’s energy and fervor were a great way to start the night, though their set could have benefitted from a little more sonic diversity. Heath draws on a wide array of influences: her voice slides easily from a throaty, sultry jazz to neo-Celtic wailing. Instrumentally, I also heard flashes of early 90’s grunge, blues and that broad bastard of a genre, “indie,” that show that Heath and her black-clad compatriots are capable of (and excel at) leaving the neo-gothic box. I’m going to venture a guess that this was a reflection of the night’s set list, which still did not fail to please the audience that crowded the dance floor to get closer to Heath’s wild, warrior-like energy.
After all this, one might be concerned about David Williams (pictured). The gangly, seemingly shy solo guitarist could have easily been smothered between the other two raucous and unusually populous acts at the Woodshed. However, I can assure you, the man holds his own. Williams was able to bring a mellower tone to the stage without losing the energy or crowd; no small feat for a man armed only with a vintage Martin guitar. Before the set we were admonished (possibly by the sound guy) to “be very quiet and listen to David Williams because he kicks ass.” We simmered down and behaved ourselves and were duly rewarded with a bluesy, heartfelt performance. Williams has a talent for whizzing through myriad musical genres, from blues to country and up to contemporary rock, all flavored with his unique, almost forlorn vocals. The sound he calls from that old, worn guitar is bigger than you would expect. I found myself searching the stage for pedals and other electronic paraphernalia, all I found was the man, the guitar and a small steel slide. His final song, Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain,” was an appropriate finisher for an artist who clearly never has the Delta far from his mind.
Following a short respite and another round of courage, the audience prepared itself for the joyful madness that is La Farsa. The dance floor crowd, which had grown steadily throughout the evening, reached its height. After the sound check, the band erupted into dizzying keyboard runs, bright, poppy guitars and, of course, Erin Haley’s powerful vocals. More than a few times during the set, I realized that the only thing more fun than watching La Farsa might be being in La Farsa. Tambourines, costumes, an instrumental round robin that showcases the talent all the individuals in the group: could there be a better circus to run away with? The group has a sound unlike any other and defies genre, yet is at times reminiscent of the best indie rock of the last decade. Favorite originals like “End Times” and “Elizabeth” were met with as much enthusiasm as they were performed with (which is to say, a lot). Their last song provided an unexpected highlight of the evening: a cover of Randy Newman’s “Guilty,” featuring chilling vocal harmonies from the females. “Guilty” is a song about being drunk, addicted and generally no good for yourself or for the person whose door you inevitably end up in front of at 3 a.m. If La Farsa brings their lunatic gypsy carnival with them, I don’t care how drunk or guilty they are: Baby, come on in.