I had to go an jinx myself. The very first time I’d announced an interview ahead of conducting it, it goes awry. I’d been told to show up at World Café Live at 6:30PM last night to meet up with Alison Sudol, or perhaps you know her as A Fine Frenzy. She’d been told to expect me at 5PM, wherein laid the problem. Needless to say I was bummed, and apologize if you are, too, but from here on out, I will not be announcing interviews ahead of time. They’ll just be presents that pop up randomly, so I don’t go jinxing myself, again. Interview or not, A Fine Frenzy put on a smashing show.
Sudol was joined on stage by Jesse Seibenberg on drums, guitar and glockenspiel and by Steven LeBlanc on keyboards, bass keyboards and acoustic guitar. The trio created seamless and beautiful melodies for a sold out crowd downstairs at World Café Live. A warbly echo sounded against a stage awash in the glow of purple spotlights as the audience waited in anticipation for Sudol to arrive on the stage. She walked out to a roar of cheers and simply sat at the bench of the white baby Grand piano and launched into the melodic first track on her debut Cd One Cell in the Sea, “Come On, Come Out.” Her beautiful alto voice resonates throughout the venue as she finishes her first song, grinning from ear to ear at the audience’s warm reception.
Sitting behind the piano in a dark blue, v-neck jersey dress, complimented beautifully by her radiant red locks, Sudol turns to the crowd and declares with a smile,” Hello, Philly! Oh, we’re going to have fun tonight!” She then goes straight into a strong and powerful ballad that displays her vocal range and ends with very sexy, breathy vocals, a style found throughout the set.
“Last of Days” receives happy cheers from the crowd and Sudol’s intense focus on her piano playing shows her unwaivering love for music. While Sudol’s skill as a pianist is unparalled (she’s self-taught), the synthesizer, played by Steven LeBlanc, didn’t always mesh well with the sounds being pounded out on the piano. The beauty of Sudol’s melodies was often fighting to be heard over ugly and nasally synth parts.
Sudol moves easily between happy pop songs and ballads filled with the melancholy of lost love, keeping the audience’s attention fixed solely on her. Halfway through the set, Sudol swaps out her piano for just a microphone and encourages the audience to be as loud as possible to keep her energy booming as she explains that she’d taken melanonin the night before, slept until 3PM and was still feeling the herbal supplement’s effects, even six hours later. The audience was happy to comply as Sudol began to shuffle around the stage dancing.
She tells the crowd that for this, her first headlining tour, she and her backing band decided to play some cover songs and had fans vote on what they should be. I am a huge sucker for cover songs to begin with, but as Sudol was explaining the Death Cab For Cutie song she was about to sing was a beautiful view of love, I waited with baited breath for her to sing what I knew had to be “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” my favorite Death Cab song. Sudol, accompanied by LeBlanc and Jesse Siebenberg, launched into a jazzy and fast-tempo version of the love song, which would have made Ben Gibbard more than proud, and probably humbled. As she finishes her gorgeous rendition of the song, she pauses before saying, “I love Death Cab, right?!” (watch it on YouTube, actually from the SanFran show, but just as gorgeous!)
A brand new instrumental track that has “never left my living room before this tour” followed. It was a soft and hopeful melody that left the audience in a silent awe. Sudol promises to “bojangle” the audience back to life before belting out the synth-laden “Liar Liar.” This hugely upbeat and rhythmically well-crafted tune made me understand why Virgin Records was so quick to snatch up the now 22 year-old Sudol. On the next song, Siebenberg produces heavy drum beats as Sudol sings as if she has marbles in her mouth over melodic keyboards. She follows with telling the audience to sing along with the beautiful and deeply emotional “Almost Lover,” a song she wrote at just 19. The set finishes with “Rangers,” featuring the mimicking of horse hooves by Siebenberg on the drums.
Sudol, LeBlanc and Siebenberg exit the stage upon completing “Rangers,” but wait no more than 45 seconds before coming back out as the crowd demands an encore. Sudol introduces LeBlanc and Siebenberg before dedicating the first song of the encore to friend and former tourmate Rufus Wainwright, who also covers the song she was about to sing. What follows is the most beautiful version of The Beatles‘ “Across the Universe” to have ever been sung. At the risk of having John Lennon roll over in his grave, Sudol belted out a gorgeous and amazing cover that blows the original away, entrancing the crowd until Sudol encourages her fans to sing along with the final chorus. (watch on YouTube, again from SanFran)
While I would have been delighted to have such a wonderful set end with such an amazing song, A Fine Frenzy treats her fans to three more songs. Sudol sits at her piano and explains that because loves playing in Philadelphia since the crowd is so wonderful, she and the band decided to add a song to their set. She then serenades the crowd with “Whisper,” a plucky acoustic number followed by “Near to You.” The final song of the evening was a brand new one titled “What I Wouldn’t Do,” which Sudol says will appear on the next record or will be released by itself. Sudol enters new territory with her new song, picking up an acoustic guitar to accompany Siebenberg on his guitar for the tune. “What I Wouldn’t Do” has a folky, almost country, feel to it as Sudol sings, “My heart was ticking like a bomb in a birdcage / And I left before anyone got hurt.”
Following the show, Sudol sat at her merch table to meet the audience, sign autographs and take pictures with fans. She was an absolute sweetheart and a pleasure to meet. A Fine Frenzy puts on an amazingly gorgeous show that you ought to make it your business to see. Three American dates remain before Sudol and co. head to Europe, check ‘em out below!
Mar 31 – Bluebird Theatre/Denver Co.
Apr 01 – Avalon Theatre/Salt Lake City Ut.
Apr 03 – The Roxy Theater/West Hollywood Ca.
09 Apr – Point Ephemere/Paris FR
10 Apr – Botanique/Brussels BE
11 Apr – Motel Mozaique Festival/Rotterdam NL
13 Apr – Stage Club/Hamburg DE
14 Apr – Frannz Club/Berlin DE
15 Apr – Stadtgarten/Cologne DE
16 Apr – 59 to 1/Munich DE
18 Apr – Kaufleuten/Zurich CH
20 Apr – The Joiners/Southampton UK
21 Apr – Zodiac/Oxford UK
23 Apr – Komedia/Brighton UK
24 Apr – Carling Islington Academy/London UK
A Fine Frenzy: website | myspace | book club
[where: 3025 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104]
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