Review: Mirah at Somerville Theatre

 At the Somerville Theatre, October 9, 2009
By CARRIE BATTAN  |  October 15, 2009

 Mirah-slideshow_main
Photo by Jerome Eno
Mirah at the Somerville Theatre

The mid-March release date of Portland-based singer/songwriter Mirah’s newest solo album, (A)spera, seemed ill fitting. Instead of bearing the good tidings of an imminent spring, the album oozes the moodiness of late fall and foretells the onset of a long, cold (and oh-so-lonely) winter -- a bit like an inordinately chilly Boston October. 

VIEW: Photos of Mirah at the Somerville Theatre

And thus Mirah’s performance at the Somerville Theatre on a rainy Friday night proved a seasonable treat. An initially drowsy seated house perked up as Mirah worked the spectrum of styles she's acquired during her time solo and in her partnerships with people like Phil Elverum (of the Microphones and Mount Eerie). This evolution is palpable on the wildly varied and exquisitely crafted (A)spera, which Mirah released following a five-year respite.

From an orchestral and flourishing overture (“Generosity”) to a sleepy and minimalistic folk ballad (“Education”) to a Congo-drumbeat-driven “Gone Are the Days,” the petite 35-year-old Mirah hid behind her enormous guitar and slowly revealed the musical arsenal she’s built up since she began singing and performing at age 18. She eventually set her oversized instrument aside, inviting openers Norfolk & Western on stage so she could bounce around to her klezmer-influenced “Light the Match.” And by the end of an encore that included her signature “Cold Cold Water,” off 2001's Advisory Committee, the once-sedate audience left the theater energized.

It’s become all but a prerequisite for indie singer/songwriting women who take on solo careers (see: Cat Power, Joanna Newsom, or even Feist) to rely mostly on the purity and consistency of their voices. This has been true of Mirah until very recently, but her latest work exhibits a musical maturation and instrumental diversity that transcends the reputation of a cutesy or kitschy indie chanteuse. The conundrum is that when Mirah puts on a good live show -- as she did Friday night -- her clear, delicate vocals make you wonder if more complex instrumentation and production techniques have somehow done her voice an injustice.

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