In order to pull off a solo acoustic performance, you either have to have very good tunes, or very good lyrics. Randi Russo has both. A relatively rare solo show at Sidewalk last night found her in characteristically intense mode, at least when she wasn’t gently bantering with the audience (when she plays with a band, the humorous side of her performances sometimes gets takes a backseat to the roar of the guitars). Over the last ten years, she’s slowly gravitated from otherworldly, noisily literate rock, to hypnotic acoustic sounds, to distantly Beatlesque psychedelia, a style she mines triumphantly on her latest album Fragile Animal. The constant through it all has been her gently defiant lyrics and her pillowy-yet-steely vocals. Case in point: the trance-inducing Shout Like a Lady (the title track from her excellent 2006 album), which she played late in the set. Over a minimalist, repetitive guitar figure, she offered an anthem for any woman, or for that matter any individual, who’s been denied a voice:
Shout like a lady
Make it all savory
Silence is gravy
To those who hate your youth
Comfort for anyone cast into that situation, and a sarcastic slap upside the head for those who create and perpetuate it. In Venus on Saturn, she commented on how “Freud and Picasso can hone in on your womanly being/And render you two-dimensional, in an essay or a canvas painting.” And followed with an irresistibly bouncy version of That Corpse, the song’s grisly imagery juxtaposed with the occasional, blithely chirpy “woo” – which poses the question of whether the song is the least bit serious, or if it’s even more twisted than it seems before the chorus kicks in.
Russo’s resolute “no one can touch me now” snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, as the catchy, crescendoing outro to Invisible – arguably the most potent track on the new album – wound out. It’s a frequent theme in her writing, transcending what might seem to be a hopeless situation and winding up newly empowered. She also did a couple of bittersweet, more recent tunes as well as Hurt Me Now (another Fragile Animal track), her calm, casual delivery underscoring its wounded, betrayed sensibility.
It was also good to catch the tail end of Russo’s former lead guitarist Lenny Molotov’s virtuosically bluesy set with harpist Jake Engel and bassist J.D. Wood, including a couple of sophisticated, jazz-tinged numbers about boxing (notably the brisk, shuffling Watch Out Bomber), an impressively low-key Robert Johnson number, and the quietly gorgeous Ill Moon, a wry, symbolically-charged commentary on insomnia.