September 19th, 2017 @ The Sinclair
By: Robert Kerstens
The Sinclair in Cambridge routinely offers an unparalleled concert experience, with rich acoustics, synesthetic lighting, and just enough space to foster an intimate connection with the music without feeling claustrophobic. It’s the closest thing to listening to the band on a hi-fi stereo in the comfort of your own bedroom, making it the perfect home for Jay Som’s introspective bedroom-pop. Fronted by Oakland native Melinda Duterte, the band headlined a night of bittersweet haze, smothering the venue like a warm blanket.
Soccer Mommy opened the night with a set of languid lo-fi that quickly got the crowd bouncing lightly and nodding in approval. It was the perfect soundtrack for the humid overcast Tuesday. Sophie Allison sang with a heartbroken sadness that shone through the noise, wrenching with emotion like she was on the verge of tears. She sounded even better playing alone, pushing her plush voice into the spotlight and giving it room to breathe. While the music played with the full band was standard fare for an indie rock opener, Sophie’s solo performances stood out as exceptionally moving. Stripped down tracks like ‘Allison’ were achingly beautiful, steeped in the sentiment of nights spent staring at the ceiling and wondering where it all went wrong.
Stef Chura inherited the sullen mood set by Soccer Mommy, propagating it with a downtrodden set of her own. However, while Sophie’s sorrow was sewn into the shoegaze fabric, Stef’s anguish cut through like a razor blade, bleeding with raw emotion. Her nasally voice warbled and wailed, wobbling with every vowel. The quivering made interpreting the lyrics impossible, like if Young Thug was a woman in her 20’s making angsty indie rock. The sound might as well have come from the bottom of a well, her froggy vocals paired with waterlogged Black Hole Sun guitars drowning in a shimmering delay effect. Highlights included ‘Human Being’, a stripped down number where Stef rationed out her vocal inflections for maximum impact; and ‘Messes’, which featured the fuzziest guitars of the set crashing over the audience like pounding surf.
From the moment frontwoman Melinda Duterte strode onstage in overalls and a little pink cowboy hat, it was clear that Jay Som would let in some much-needed light for what had otherwise been an oppressively gloomy night. Everybody on stage was clearly having the time of their lives, fooling around like a high school band playing in front of their friends at a party. They were remarkably lively and fun for a shoegaze act, a genre defined by lackluster stage presence. It was a testament to their undeniable chemistry, playing in perfect sync even through unexpected black metal breakdowns and drawn-out drum fills.
The set opened with ‘Everybody Works’, whose titular lyric looped and decayed to give way to the jangly ‘Ghost’, off Jay Som’s debut, Turn Into. ‘Baybee’ was a bubbly prosecco dance party, with shuffling synthetic drums and funky guitar lines rendered in sun-bleached denim. The song featured one of many crunchy solos from the mustachioed lead guitarist, packed with a ridiculous ’80s Glam Rock overdrive that matched his endearingly goofy aesthetic. Introduced as “a song about feeling a little emo sometimes”, ‘(BedHead)’ was met with huge applause from the emos in the audience. With just Melinda’s aching voice over her own droning guitar, it was indeed quite emo. One of Jay Som’s greatest assets as a live band was their seamless transitions, making it impossible to determine where one song ended and another began. ‘(BedHead)’ was no exception, overflowing into a drum solo that built in intensity before slamming into a full-band wall of sound. The resulting sludge was hard to identify at first, until an almost unrecognizable “I’ll be right on time” vocal line drifted out of the murk to tag it as ‘For Light’.
‘The Bus Song’ came on to the most crowd participation all night, with revelers singing along and some even going as far as dancing. The track featured an adorable moment where the bassist playfully strummed Melinda’s guitar and they switched places on stage. The band got experimental on ‘Remain’, starting with a three-part noodle symphony that swelled like a balloon heated by the ever-rising flame of an accelerating drum crescendo. The guitarists had some fun on this one, with both musicians kneeling down to twiddle with the knobs on their effect pedals as the drums cascaded into a percussive supernova. The resulting stardust twinkled into a Balearic rendition of ‘I Think You’re Alright’, with a long guitar solo blending into the dreamy closer ‘Lipstick Stains’ as Melinda’s support left the stage.
For their encore, Jay Som returned with ‘1 Billion Dogs’, a song dedicated to the dogs of the world. As the song faded into what seemed to be an extended ended, the guitarists began taking turns playing canonical riffs from well-known songs. It felt very off-the-cuff and spontaneous, so it was a total surprise when the medley somehow warped back into ‘1 Billion Dogs’. Playful reinterpretations like this are what make Jay Som such a fun band to watch live. Despite her sentimental lyrics, Melinda and her friends brought a contagious joy to the stage that lifted the shroud laid down by the opening acts.