Don't Go Back to Downtroddenville

Old-timey crooner shows surprising swagger

On record, San Franciscan belter Jolie Holland inspires sympathy, or at the very least makes you wonder what prick continues to burn her. Springtime Can Kill You, the Tom Waits protégée's latest effort, makes you want to drink alone—her melancholy tales of solitude blur the line between old-timey folk arrangements, jazz, and blues. But onstage, she's a different beast; though the Canal crowd expected a ticket to Downtroddenville, the night took a detour for the better. From the moment Holland appeared, her stage presence was that of a seasoned veteran, one whose self-confidence transfixed us through her swaggering style.

Backing her was a guitar-horn-drum trio whose most important task was staying out of the limelight. Holland was at her best as a loner figure, strumming an acoustic guitar and commanding us with a fixating, sultry gaze aimed at no one in particular, her ultra-red hair hanging down over her left eye. She used her voice to set song tempos, speeding up some, slowing down others. But we got less interested when she switched instruments. Her piano ballads tended to be more on the jazzy side—"Do you need something from the bar?"–inducing songs—while her rowdier honky-tonk tendencies fared better, with something akin to actual crowd hootin' and hollerin' saluting her after most tunes. She occasionally called up tourmates and backup singers as well, but they were for the most part inaudible, and though Holland clearly adored them, a bit hokey in look and execution.

Jolie Holland @ Canal Room
photo: Willie Davis/Veras
Jolie Holland @ Canal Room

Nonetheless, she induced a few crowd members into some good ol'-fashioned PDA, but in a way that didn't necessarily make you want to vomit. Now three albums deep, Holland also didn't just plow through her Springtime, but modestly dipped into her back catalog too, culminating in requests for "Sascha" and "Old Fashion Morphine," both clearly fan favorites. Lucinda, Norah, and Neko better look out: Holland's a charmer, even during a long-winded narrative she described as "Allen Ginsberg singing William Blake." No PDA during that one.

 
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