Show Recap: Valerie June Live at Amoeba Hollywood

Posted by Billy Gil, September 20, 2013 06:09pm | Post a Comment

Valerie June started her Sept. 19 set at Amoeba Hollywood with little fanfare, playing guitar steadily and humming hypnotically to a stripped-down version of the title track to Pushin' Against a Stone (on CD or LP), the title track to her fourth and breakthrough album. On record, it's a fuzz-guitar laden soul number; live, June appeared solo, strumming her guitar and allowing her voice to grow slowly over time, moving from low and earthy to high and keening like Joanna Newsom's. "I ain't fit to be no mother" she sang on "Workin' Woman Blues," the album's awesome opener. Though her playing style was rudimentary, she got her point across, playing rough blues riffs and strumming open notes for a droning effect.

Even with a big name producer on her album like The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Valerie June isn't an artist who's been polished to a professional sheen. She still came off as an eccentric, saying little and hiding behind sunglasses. While she sometimes played furiously and sang her heart out, it seemed as though she was playing to herself, alone in a room—something that didn't hurt her performance, but rather made it all the more curious.

She strummed a banjo for the stunning "Somebody to Love," really belting and letting her voice break deliberately on the high notes, making the song's yearning sentiment quite literally felt. Soundwise it was tricky—her voice goes from a whisper to a yelp so quickly that she was sometimes barely audible, sometimes piercing. This wasn't exactly the kind of performance you could listen to idly; June demands your attention, which she received to rapturous applause on that song.

She pulled out an older song, the sweet "Rain Dance," and added country shuffle to the song by playing a tambourine with her foot. She showed some chops on banjo on another song, building a drone from a repeated riff that ebbed louder and quieter along with her voice.

"Everybody's got great hair around here," she joked, adding that often touch her dreadlocked mane "like a puppy dog." "As long as your hands are clean, I don't care," she said before playing her last song, a Loretta Lynn-esque number and one of her loveliest, with hard-hitting lyrics—"men are born strong, then broken down," she sang.

See more photos from the event here.

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