Sometimes Boston has a weird sort of parochialism to it. Last year the excellent record Planet (i) was nominated for a Boston Music Award for record of the year as well as for artist of the year. I’d not heard of the band before that but did a bit of digging to find out that Ella Williams had left Arlington and moved to Iowa when she was 14, before her first recordings surfaced. That said, she was thrilled to be headlining The Sinclair and clearly there were friends and family gathered in the audience.
On first listen to the record, there were touches of sparse, sometimes emotionally raw flashes in the songs. Comparisons to Sharon Van Etten and especially Rosali wouldn’t be out of turn, and it’s clear that Williams takes her time to create very evocative moments in her songs. After starting with a solo take on “I’ll Go Now,” accompanied just by her voice, her guitar and a loop that she started late in the song, the scene was set and the dial adjusted to FULL MESMERIZE. The next song really struck right to the bone; “I’ll Go Running” with the refrain of “I’ll be newer than before” really struck me that while sonically different, she operated in the same emotional space where Jason Molina once did. Stark, blunt, direct – it’s hard to pinpoint a highlight of the set during the first six minutes but that set a lasting impression. Fans of A.A. Williams will know what I’m talking about. Her band was deft and dexterous, supporting the songs without overbearing, well chosen for the material. A late set trick of being wheeled out in the kick drum case and popping out like some vaudeville act was pretty funny. I’m looking forward to watching her progression as a musician.
Another Ella had the stage prior, as Ms. Boissonnault trotted out with a big smile, a flashy pink guitar and a handful of new songs on the just released What I Want record, with tapes at the merch table but vinyl a timing casualty due to the well-publicized supply chain issues. The bass player soldiered on with four (and what was originally five) stitches in his fret index finger, providing a supple low end to the songs; minor quibble that the drums were a bit too loud from where I was standing. Solid act, check out the new record.
Lightning Bug was opening but the band was reduced to singer Audrey Kang, as the band couldn’t make the show for undisclosed reasons. And if you’re a band that focuses heavily on guitar pedal effects, going it solo is a journey only meant for brave souls. Kang nailed it, though. Delicately finger-picking her semi-hollow body Telecaster, she won the crowd over quickly with her self-deprecating and disarmingly easy style of humor. Poking fun at her high school composition (“I don’t think I’ll be going to school today”) or talking about a new song that was quasi-inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean marathon her bandmates subjected her to (like Kang I was surprised to find out there were five in total), Kang played a succinct and effective set in what was likely an unfamiliar setting.