A Little Ghostbird Once Told Me…
– Zee Avi, “Honeybee”
All eyes were on Malaysian singer-songwriter Zee Avi on a Thursday night (1/9) as she took the stage at Littlefield, a small music venue in Brooklyn. Avi performed songs from her most recent album Ghostbird, as well as old favorites and new ditties – she even threw in some foreign languages in there.
A bubbly lady standing proudly at four feet 11 inches, Avi has a big voice and feisty personality. She could easily shut you up with her soothing vocals, cheeky storytelling lyrics and catchy guitar and ukulele melodies. Her song topics range from Kierkegaard to gang members to frustrated love. For some reason, melodically, I find her songs sound much more perkier and upbeat than the darker lyrics would belie. Don’t be mistaken, though: this songstress has that “special something” that could only be called raw talent and a dynamic stage presence. From her brazenly self-conscious bantering in between songs to whipping out her string instrument of choice, my eyes were glued to her the entire time.
In a past interview, Avi has said that mixing woeful themes with chipper music – a trademark of hers – is something she enjoys doing.
“The song that first inspired me to write that way was ‘Who Loves the Sun,’ by the Velvet Underground,” she explains. “That’s when I realized you could mix melancholy lyrics with upbeat melodies. I love that sort of irony.”
Stranger cat, or Cat Martino, was the opening act. Hers is a gypsy-synth sound, joined by Sven Britt, her collaborator. That night, Britt played drum synths and supplied other percussion synth sounds. I’m no electronic music expert but Stranger cat’s set involved a whole lot of looping and overdubs, and breathy, layered, harmony vocals supplied by Cat.
Zee was the big draw! And oh how we waited for her…
The show didn’t start until nearly 8pm, so it was just Stranger cat for a good six songs. I was intrigued in the beginning by the free-spirited jungle-gypsy-electro sounds, but after the third song I was hoping it could hurry on up so Zee could take the spotlight. It was a bit painful standing around for hours and not being too amused by the out-there songs that didn’t seem to make much sense. Actually there was one rad track about Stranger cat’s dad who was an immigrant from Sicily (uh oh, I just used the word ‘rad’…) and Cat’s singing wasn’t bad. Her voice had a Broadway-meets-opera-meets-tribal-chant vibe. It’s just not quite my style.
On the other hand, Zee was cheerful, spunky and flirty in a cute way, as she apologetically read snippets of her rehearsed “script” banter between songs. She wore a gold lame top and long black maxi skirt: as free-flowing as the wind.
Avi opened her set by singing a few lines from Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” She played (not exactly in chronological order): “Poppy,” “Honey Bee,” “Bitter Heart”, “I Am Me Once More,” “Concrete Wall” with actress Tracie Thoms (AKA Mimi on Rent, and a good friend of Avi’s) who provided the “BOOM she-clack-clacks” human voice percussion, a Spice Girls cover I didn’t recognize, a new song she’d just made up last night about a particularly volatile “crazy roommate,” “Just You and Me” (first song she ever composed on ukulele), a French song, “Kantoi” (a Malaysian and English song), and the encore: “Hector.” Apparently Zee Avi’s “Kantoi” has been covered on Indonesian Idol and Taiwanese Idol talent TV shows. Who knew!
I had a blast at the show, especially since it was my first time seeing Zee Avi live! You should check out her music: her songs are the perfect backdrop to a sunny day with the car windows rolled down, blasting down the highway. Or reading at a cafe (Kierkegaard, perhaps?). Or the theme song to some dreamy show. You’ll see what I mean.
622 Degraw St (between 3rd Ave & 4th Ave)
Brooklyn, NY 11217