Candlelight flickered on the walls of the Student Union Den Sept. 16 as three local musicians strummed and sang their way through an intimate concert. Forty people attended the KRUA-sponsored event, which featured the music of Sarah Jo Wells, The Gypsy Cabs and Emily Tornfelt.
Wells, an Anchorage local and UAA engineering student, took the stage to open the concert. In tune and on time, she performed a surprisingly smart rendition of the 1961 Patsy Cline hit “Walkin’ After Midnight” but with a vocal style more similar to Norah Jones’ than to Cline’s signature drawl.
With just one purple stool and a plugged-in cherry-burst acoustic guitar, Wells sported a gray blazer over a white button-up shirt with a dark skirt accentuated by fishnet stockings and checkered Vans. Like her music, Wells’ eclectic outfit made her hard to classify at first glance.
Wells’ experience was evident in her interaction with the small crowd.
She fawned, asking the audience, “It’ll all be fine eventually / How can I look into his eyes / when I’ve already looked into yours?” Her confidence gave the impression she could have fit onto a bigger stage.
Wells’ set was cut short so the singer could scramble out the door to another performance at Bitoz Caf? and Pizzeria downtown.
Following Wells’ too-brief set was The Gypsy Cabs, with Matt Honkola on guitar and vocals and Nevada Start on guitar.
The Gypsy Cabs’ lyrics and rhythms suggested a little more of the angst of youth typified by many local Anchorage bands, though emotional vocals and broader musical influences seemed to give it more leverage.
Honkola’s voice took to a rough start but after a few minutes he seemed to loosen up.
The low point was hearing the Cabs tune their guitars while on-stage without interacting with the audience, only to discover that once the next song started, the instruments were still a little off.
The Cabs moved to the second half of the set sounding more like acoustic emo-core than alt-rock — playing instruments well is never expected of any emo bands but Honkola and Start strum perfunctorily. Listeners may get the feeling guitar leads and harmonies were slapped into a song, though on some tunes they were navigated more easily.
Emily Tornfelt took the stage to close out the concert and brought her brother Tyler and his upright bass along for the ride. Tyler’s bass accompanied the sound of his sister’s borrowed vintage, sunburst-colored Gibson acoustic guitar beautifully throughout the set.
The songs Emily performed were mostly a collection of monologues and first-person stories. In her song, “British,” she seems to be struggling with herself more than anyone else. “Not British but he’s beautiful / He’s not innocent but he’s useful / And how do I explain? / How do I refrain?”
Emily’s strongly syncopated guitar techniques begged for a rhythm section to back her up. Occasionally, the beat would disappear.
Emily closed the set with a cover of “Ain’t She Sweet.” She admitted she did not know who originally composed it but the version she got caught up on was recorded by the Beatles. Milton Ager and Jack Yellen composed the song, which became an instant Dixieland hit. The most famous version was the first song recorded by the Beatles.
Emily’s version of “Sweet” was rich and delicate — a far cry from the countless recordings made in the late 50’s. It suggests that Tornfelt is capable of interpreting music and making it her own.
After her set, Emily Tornfelt rattled off influences like Tori Amos, Portishead’s Beth Gibbons and Bjork, three chartreuses renowned in the musical world for their distinct vocal styles. When it comes to songwriting, Tornfelt has only one person to please at this point.
“I write for myself,” she said.
The concert was the first of three scheduled by KRUA to showcase local talent. The next concerts are scheduled for Oct. 8 and Nov. 11.