I'll let you know a secret. I go to a lot of shows but I'm never comfortable at any of them. I'm always the outsider. This is my own doing. I understand that. Life is just like that sometimes. Thankfully my camera gives me license to be at the gig. It also gives me purpose and something to do with my hands. No time for people, just pictures and jotted observations.
I arrived at Afterword Tavern & Shelves just as band was completing its first set. Be in the tavern 20 minutes without purpose? Too much. I stepped back outside, found a spot in the shade, and opened my book. You always bring a book to concerts right?
At 8:00 I walked back into the club in preparation for the Black Mariah Theater's second set. I'd been to Afterword once before for a going away party for a coworker of Kate's. She noted that it was a bookstore with fewer books than she has in the house. She's a librarian. Is that even fair? I ordered a ginger beer (Bundaberg in the bottle) and sat down on a worn purple couch at the front of the room close to the band. The duo of Sophia (vocals/guitar) and Analiese Motta (drums) were set up diagonally with both the front window and a bank of books as their backdrop. The afternoon light warmed the scene. It looked cozy. Like drinks in the library next to the grand fireplace cozy. Maybe I watch too many movies. It sounded good too. No PA to speak of, just a small speaker amplifying Sophia's vocals placed in such a way as to serve as vocal monitor as well. The duo is entertaining. Artistic and flamboyant with great eyes for fashion and design. Perfect on Instagram. Probably great on Tik Tok too. Live, there was less. Less hats and less hair and less sunglasses and less sequins. Well, maybe not less sequins. Thigh-high silver boots still provide plenty of sparkle. There was casual banter from each of the sisters with the audience. Song introductions mostly. Occasionally the two would mutter in confidence, unheard by the audience. Probably deciding on the next song, possibly building a grocery list.
This set was a mix of old songs, new songs, and covers. The band isn't afraid of diversity. Some songs lean hard into jazz. Sophia finds those strange chords on her electric hollowbody and Analiese plays the silences and accents delightfully. Some songs lean into the blues. It's Sophia's voice that carries the day here. It's strong and confident and mysteriously aged. A good portion of the set fell into the blues rock category. Dangerous territory for me. By law, a guitar and drum duo must cover the White Stripes. Thankfully the band's version of "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)" tended to the country blues rather than the delta or Chicago varieties. Owing to the non-traditional venue, there was no rock star histrionics. Sophia seldom stepped away from her microphone. The biggest burst of energy came as the band performed "Did I Love You" from its latest LP. The band was feeling that one. New song "Broken Bone" was swampy and dark, based on sparse low accompaniment, building to crashing cymbals. The final track of the night was my favorite. Sophia switched to her "witchy guitar," casting everything in a hazy folk light rather than the bright jazz one or the dirty blues one. This is where the band is magic.
Somewhere near the end of the set I found myself talking to a stranger. A local community organizer engaged in a variety of causes — one of which must have been to convince the photographer that he was no more outsider than anyone else in the tavern. We talked through the end of the set and past last call. When I noticed the time — and my last chance for falafel fading fast — I excused myself to pack up my camera and leave. The room was empty except for the staff behind the bar. I had been talking longer than I thought. Pretty comfortable place, Afterword. I hope they have more bands play there so my camera and I have an excuse to come back.