A cloaked figure heads down a spiral staircase and stands in front of a rotund chandelier. Three men surround the figure. And they all play some rock music.
This was the scene at Thursday night’s Jay Som show at Subterranean. I don’t know if it was her straight-faced head shot or the somber tone on songs like “Take It” from her latest album “Everybody Works,” but prior to the show, I figured Melina Duterte to be a “no nonsense” sort of performer. Rather, Jay Som (a “baby name generated” moniker, meaning “Victory Moon”) engaged in some goofy on-stage behavior: guitar duels, air basketball and a genuine good time.
“I’m baking like a potato up here,” Duterte shouted out from under her black hooded poncho. She decided it was worth the heat to look like a Sith Lord.
The Oakland, California-based singer-songwriter and her guitarist had smiles the entire set and perhaps the bassist/keyboardist did too but his long hair was often covering his whole face as he got into the rhythms.
The show was “School of Rock”-esque with the backing guitarist so engrossed in the music he mouthed every word, despite his lack of a mic. An audience member behind me even made a comment about the venue resembling the opening scene of the 2003 movie: posters, hidden staircases and checkered floors. Looking up from the floor, it felt like you were in a magnificent (but maybe haunted) old home complete with a chandelier, candelabras on the wall and balconies above. Looking down from the balcony, it felt like you were in a grungy basement with worn-in floors and a couple making out in the middle of the crowd (before 8:30 p.m.).
The layout requires one to decide which is the more important concert experience: to hear well stay on the floor but to see well head upstairs. It seemed as if most goers valued listening, punctuated by the surprisingly low number of shining screens throughout the show.
Jay Som’s set was super fun — a different adjective than I’d use to describe “Everybody Works.” Duterte recorded the album alone in her bedroom studio, producing a quietly pensive, albeit powerful sound. The show contradicted this tranquility, as Duterte and her backing band palled on stage pretending to whack each other with guitar arms.
The transition from a quiet bedroom to a live band in front of a packed audience was seen poignantly in Duterte’s reaction to a unified crowd yelling, “But I like the bus” back at her during “The Bus Song.” The band was visibly in gracious awe: “Oh my god Chicago!” she said afterwards, twice.
Stef Chura is a three-piece band out of Detroit, fronted by Chura herself. Chura’s voice was Alanis Morisette-esque — a gorgeous crooner — it was unfortunate that the heavy rock instrumentals sometimes flooded its power.
Soccer Mommy was just featured in the New York Time’s magnificent interactive piece “Rock’s Not Dead, It’s Ruled By Women.” The authors described vocalist Sophie Allison’s work as “songs [that] are generously tender, pushing and pulling between prenatural composure and emotional disintegration.” Towards the end of the set the other three members of Soccer Mommy left via the spiral staircase — strung with red string lights and plastered with stickers — at the back of the stage. Allison, now solo, performed “Allison” and “Worn Out” passionately like the New York Times applauded rockstar she is.
Thursday’s show was a fantastic rock show, but it was also somewhat of an anomaly. Not only was the first opener on a three-band $15 ticket just featured in the New York Times, but the line-up was all female-fronted. We need more lineups like this. Venues need to support women’s art and, as Dewey Finn might say, “stick it to the man.”