Across the audience you could see heads swinging with their eyes closed — calm expressions that made people look like they were very far away but at the same time so intimately connected to whatever was happening last night at the Crocodile.
If you read my preview of this show you have a good idea of the expectations I had. Being newly introduced to the term, “romp”, (I know it’s not that uncommon, leave me alone) I got fixed to the idea that this show will be a bit of a celebration for skeptics or fellow non-lovers of the corny, infamous holiday that features a plethora of bad reminders of bad relationships through bad Facebook messages. At times, that is what this show was, but at others, it was something entirely different.
The show opened with friendly, local band Evening Bell. The group describes themselves on their facebook page as “cosmic country duets with a does of psych pop.” I have to admit I missed the psych pop part; the harmony the two lead singers have, however, is very beautiful. Their vocals featured dialogues and echoes and at times the two singers would just look at each other while they sang at one another. This and the fantastic tempo they kept with each other, having mid-song pauses that would resume all at once with no one missing the beat, made the distance between each member look smaller and smaller. That is, until the group played their instrumental number that featured isolated playing from different members, making the instruments look like they were in conversation with one another.
10 minutes after Evening Bell finished packing up and joined us at the bar, we see Mayfield’s hunk of a husband and bass guitar player, Jesse Newport, begin sound check. I have to say, he looked very cute strapping on each of Mayfield’s either pink, white and always shiny guitars for sound check. Then finally the star herself hops on stage sporting an old denim jacket and new green hair with sparkly, golden docks. I am taking the time to describe this because of how hard I wish I had Jessica Lea Mayfield’s aesthetic. After a shy “hello” to the audience the band begins to play “I Wanna Love You.” The single came as the perfect introduction to the set and was quickly followed by a very heavy and intense version of “Oblivious”, which came as a huge surprise with it being one of the least heavy tracks from the new album, Make My Head Sing. As it turns out, Mayfield edited all her songs, new and old, for this performance. There were versions of new songs that had a bigger intensity than in the album as well as versions of songs from the second album, Tell Me, that, while performed more intense than their recorded versions during the tour, were this time performed a lot more mellower. The whole thing made the set have a motion of constant surprise and impression for any die-hard Jessica Lea Mayfield fans that were present for in the room.
Two of my favorites from the album Tell Me, “Sometimes At Night” and “Somewhere In Your Heart” were featured in this set. I expected those songs to sound like this SXSW performance but instead were performed a whole beat slower and with only one electric guitar (Mayfield’s). At first, I felt a little awkward with the change in tempo. But when I stopped looking at her guitar and started looking at her, I noticed Mayfield changed the way she sang on the songs as well the way she played them. In her expression and her shoreline voice one could feel the old emotions Mayfield still associated with this song. I looked around at the audience and there were couples beginning to hold each other closer after probably just remembering the tough journey they had to take to find each other. The heavy atmosphere is lifted for a short breather while Mayfield takes a second to have a sip of her mojito. After that she says, “this is the first screwed up love song I ever wrote” before she starts playing a song from the new album called “Seein* Starz.” The song had a nice beat that allows you to add a step to your swaying and allowed the couples to sway together with their arms around each other.
Mayfield did not forget to include songs from first EP, Blasphemy So Heartfelt. After some tough atmosphere, Mayfield cheers everyone up (ironically) with Mayfield classic “Kiss Me Again.” Being one of her greatest hit, little change was added to the song. No change was actually necessary. Everyone in the bar recognized and sang along to this song, including the two beer downing bros standing next to us.
After this track came another famous oldie, “Bible Days.” Except this was not “Bible Days.” I do not know what this was. I want to call it a grunge cover of “Bible Days” made by an artist that’s not Jessica Lea Mayfield. Originally recorded with acoustic guitar, Mayfield went at this track with greater electric rips than “Oblivious”. It made the song have a whole different feel. If anyone ever questioned the statement, “I don’t wanna be tested by God or anybody else” they’ll never question it now—Mayfield stayed completely true to it. This was a testament to just how far she’s gone beyond the limitations placed on her when she originally started out.
“To those of you who had a traumatizing Valentine’s Day, I did not this year, but my heart is with you,” says the empathetic folk artist before she announces, laughingly, that she’s closing the show with “No Fun.” This track, though, has the tendency to sneak up on you no matter how many times you hear it. The guitar winding Mayfield makes before jumping into that instrumental break completely dismantles you, which granted after having been constantly shaken up throughout this set, probably wasn’t the most challenging thing to do. Obviously granting us an encore with “Our Hearts Are Wrong” — what I used to think of a very saddening song—Mayfield asks two members from the audience, one of which was part of the couples I was describing, to get on stage and sing and dance with her to this sad number.
This concert was great in an endless amount of ways. Being a fan of her since I was 16, seeing her live and taking a picture with her left me completely stunned.
Gabriel Ferri/ Queen of the Punkos/ KXSU Head Writer and DJ