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Tag: Dawn Oberg review

Sharp and Hilarious New Protest Songs From Dawn Oberg

Nobody writes funnier, more acerbic protest songs these days than pianist and singer Dawn Oberg. The San Francisco songwriter’s previous political piano pop album Nothing Rhymes with Orange made the best albums of the year list in 2017. Lockdown or no lockdown, she was determined to get a new short album of relevantly entertaining songs out this year too. Her excoriating, irresistibly sardonic latest release, 2020 Revision is streaming at Bandcamp. As usual, the band behind her – Kelyn Crapp and Roger Rocha on guitars, Shawn Miller on bass and Andrew Laubacher on drums – are tight and inspired behind the velvet vocals.

Oberg loves puns and multiple entendres (in her world, doubles are for lightweights), and uses a lot of gospel voicings at the piano. “Those who hunger for justice are now starving at the station door,” she intones on the album’s first song, It’s 12:01, a fiery, insistent call for justice for the chilling list of innocent people murdered by the SFPD. The album includes a second, “clean” radio edit of the song so the censors don’t get their underwear all up in a knot over the word “motherfuckers.”

In the more woundedly subdued, gospel-tinged second track, Care, Oberg ponders what kind of “psychic surgeon practicing somewhere” could possibly give Donald Trump a conscience. In a year where the lockdowners are building concentration camps on American soil, this song has special resonance.

With Erik Ian Walker on the organ, the funniest, bounciest number here is Mitch McConnell. “I wouldn’t cross the street to pee on him if he were onfire,” Oberg insists. She takes issue with people who compare the Republican paleofascist to turtles, since that would be an insult to any reptile. We’ve never needed artists like Dawn Oberg more than we do now – which is why the lockdowners are doing everything in their power to keep audiences away from any kind of music. That’s an issue which Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ayatollah Khomeini and the Taliban all agreed on.

Witheringly Elegant, Ruthlessly Funny Protest Songs From Dawn Oberg

What’s more Halloweenish than the prospect of Donald Trump NOT being impeached? Think about that for a second. Dawn Oberg, arguably this era’s most entertaining protest songsmith, played a guardedly optimistic, elegantly venomous set at the Rockwood last month that evoked what the world would be like under another Trump administration. It was as grim as you would expect, but Oberg’s irrepressible sense of humor wouldn’t quit. In times like these, you have to laugh, right?

It had been six years since anybody from this blog had seen the Bay Area singer/pianist in concert. The first time was at the infamous Bar East, where she played to basically two people: this blog’s owner, and the coked-up soundguy. The New York gigs have gotten better since then, and Oberg’s voice has grown richer and more velvety, like a good single malt. And her writing has never been more excoriatingly funny.

Playing wide-angle gospel chords and intricate, jazz and blues-inflected ripples, she briskly made her way through a bristling set. Not all of the songs were political. She opened with her usual Old Hussies Never Die and followed that with Whiskey Priest, one of her many character studies, this a shout out to a liberation Christian with a fondness for spirits (much of Oberg’s catalog looks to the bottom of a glass, darkly).

Idiot for Love was a rarity, a wry, guardedly optimistic love ballad, followed by the similarly upbeat, pouncing, quietly devastating End of the Continent, a cynical tale of abandonment and alienation told in California seismological imagery. And with the disarmingly catchy Angel Rant, Oberg offered robust, rebellious empathy for anyone spiraling into a dark night of the soul.

Then she dug into the political satire, ruthlessly, one song after another: the relentless cynicism of I’d Love to Be Wrong; the withering Nothing Rymes with Orange (title track of her fantastic protest song ep from last year), and possibly the best song of the set, the furious, defiant it’s 12:01, namechecking everyone  recently murdered by the SFPD: “Past time, motherfuckers, to change the guard at the gate.” The funniest song of the set was Mitch McConnell, wherein Oberg pondered what horrible things a turtle could possibly do to be compared to that troglodyte.

Oberg’s next gig is, Nov 14 at 6 PM at Martuni’s, 4 Valencia St. in San Francisco.

Dawn Oberg’s Nothing Rhymes With Orange: 2017’s Funniest Political Album

What’s more Halloweenish than Putin’s little bitch in the Oval Office? That’s what Dawn Oberg calls him in the scathingly hilarious, Beatlesque parlor-pop title track of her new ep, Nothing Rhymes with Orange. It’s streaming at Bandcamp, and she’s making a relatively rare New York appearance at 2:45 PM at Matchless in Williamsburg on Nov 12. Similarly lyrical, unpredictable, wickedly catchy keyboard-fueled art-rockers Changing Modes eventually follow later in the evening at 5:45; cover is $10.

Oberg is unsurpasssed at sardonically funny, insightful tunesmithing. With her sharp wit, erudite gospel-inspired piano chops and quirky vocals, she’s been pursuing her distinctive, literary parlor pop and artsy rock since the early zeros. She never met a good pun she could resist, and slings one of those after another at the failed casino magnate whose unlikely ascendancy to the one public office he’ll ever hold left the world in a state of shock and horror last November. Until the slow wheels of impeachment reach their inevitable destination, we have this record to soothe the burn.

Oberg’s band here includes Roger Rocha on guitar, Shawn Miller on bass, Erik Ian Walker on organ and Andrew Laubacher on drums. They shuflfle along with with Oberg’s tumbling piano and torrents of lyrics in Information Is Your Friend, a snide response to the deluge of fake news being sent out by the “tweeting twat” in the White House:

Someone smart said a long time ago, the truth will set you free
And it sucks I even have to say it, that I have to sing and play it…

That disillusion is echoed in I’d Love to Be Wrong, which alludes to Oberg’s classic breakup-as-earthquake anthem End of the Continent:

I see four guys on horses
The sky growing dark,
I can hear the rattle of chains
They ain’t coming to help us
Their hostages already slain

Oberg is no stranger to political satire, or irresistible jokes – her 2008 album is titled Horticulture Wars – but this is the funniest thing she’s ever done. And it’s reason to look forward to what she has to say when hubris catches up with that tweeting twat. Let’s just hope he doesn’t start a real war when he finally figures out that he bit off way too much more than he could chew.

Dawn Oberg’s New Album: Through the Bottom of a Glass, Darkly

Pianist/songwriter Dawn Oberg seems to have an enthusiastic cult following. She plays respectably small and midsize venues across the country and is well-liked by NPR. The obvious comparison is Aimee Mann, but where Mann looks back to 60s folk-rock and psychedelia, Oberg is more informed by jazz, gospel and soul music. She’s got a New York show at 9 PM on 4/20 – where, you ask? City Winery? The big room at the Rockwood? The Blue Note, or Barbes? Nope. Oberg is playing Bar East, the former Hogs & Heifers space on the Upper East better known as Bare Ast, which pretty much says it all about the kind of disarray facing musicians passing through town.

Although alcohol makes frequent appearances in Oberg’s urbane, wryly literate songs – her new album is titled Rye – disarray is not a factor. She’s a hell of a piano player with a fondness for gospel voicings and sings in a quirky, natter-of-fact contralto, sort of Amy Allison in slo-mo. Oberg keeps the humor deadpan and lets her images speak for themselves. Perfect illustration: the nonchalantly shuffling opening track, Girl Who Sleeps with Books. Oberg slowly pans an apartment that’s perfectly comfortable on one hand, and yet there’s something missing. The brilliance of this song is that this girl, with her notebook and clutter and caffeine addiction, who would rather spend an evening with something more interactive than a novel, is us. Seriously: who doesn’t have a book hiding somewhere in the covers?

The title track juxtaposes jaunty, blues-infused piano rock with a brooding, whiskey-fueled reminscence of a long-gone affair spent “hiking in the Sierras, getting high and watching South Park.” With its breathless torrents of lyrics, Gentleman and a Scholar is 21st century Cole Porter, a portrait of someone who “knows the works of Fats Waller and can play you recordings of them…he taught me how to drive a stick without acting like a prick and in general doesn’t tick me off.” The subtext is killing: Amy Rigby would do this one halfspeed with guitars and pedal steel.

Reconstruction evokes Shine On Brightly era Procol Harum, Roger Rocha adding shifting layers of guitar, a neat touch considering the song’s architectural theme. Parallel Plane revisits the swinging shuffle of the opening track: “The masterpiece I ruined is always on display…like a monster with a toy she’d break rather than hold,” Oberg laments. Cracks, an understatedly haunting, elegaic ballad worthy of Phil Ochs, sets Oberg’s clipped, wounded articulation over Rocha’s distantly symphonic guitar orchestration:

Black orange and red, colors of your bed
The canvas conveys how well you hide the dread
From Larkspur to the Tenderloin
A journey that spans a realm of the coin 
Distant as Marrakesh
Promixity of spirit and flesh
With angles so sharp and unkind
As to sever all you hold as true
You keep close to your heart the cracks killing you

Contortions works a sideshow metaphor for all it’s worth, an exasperated message to someone jumping through hoops for someone when she should really be kicking his ass instead. As a portrait of bitterness and alienation, Disguise makes a more angst-ridden companion to Blow This Nightclub’s Sensitive Skin. To That Extent once again evokes Procol Harum, Erik Ian Walker’s organ mingling with Oberg’s piano for a richly textural feast.

“The breakers shining big and beautiful, will laugh unthinkingly and crush your skull,” Oberg intones matter-of-factly on End of the Continent, its earthquake metaphors gathering intensity in anticipation of the Big One. It’s the album’s catchiest song and a rare moment where Oberg cuts loose at the piano: she always leaves you wanting more. It ends with Civic High, a high-spirited tribute to Oberg’s native San Francisco, her “favorite hedonistic playground.” The only other lyrical rock albums from this year that compare with this are Ward White’s surreal, sinister Bob, and LJ Murphy’s new one, which is in the can but not released yet.