Friday nights in New Haven can be hit or miss. There was a mixture of devoted fans and curious passers-by that came into Cafe 9 last Friday. The majority of people did not appear focused on the music of Brooklyn based Xenia Rubinos and Lady Lamb the Beekeeper. The incessant prattle was enough to make anyone want to scream, and the thought crossed my mind more than once throughout the night.
Surrounded by keyboards and synthesizers, Xenia Rubinos stepped up to the microphone. Drummer Marco Buccelli sat at his drum kit with white earbuds in. It seemed like such a basic set up, but it perfectly highlighted the duo’s unique sound. Rubinos vocal prowess combined with her energetic gesticulating made up for the minimalist instrumentation. While her keyboard playing often times felt perfunctory, with a repetition of the same notes or simple held chords, it gives her vocals the opportunity to shine. Her style is a combination of scat, jazz and dance. Rubinos transitions into Spanish and right back into English in the same song. During the set, Rubinos danced across the stage and attacked the inverted Zil Bel cymbal on Buccelli’s kit with her own drum stick. Her vocals were looped to create impressive layers of sound backed throughout by Buccelli’s effortless drum fills.
Label mates Rubinos and Buccelli remained on stage at their respective instruments, while lead vocalist/guitarist Aly Spaltro and bassist TJ Metcalfe quietly tuned their instruments. Once she was satisfied with her levels, Spaltro removed a bulky knit sweater and adjusted her electric guitar. Large framed glasses sat upon her face. A simple outline tattoo of her home state of Maine was displayed on her left shoulder. The contrast in styles was jarring as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper opened their set. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper’s contemplative and lyrically heavy music was only intensified after the exuberant performance by Rubinos.
At first, Spaltro was solemn and brooding. The powerful voice that booms out of her petite frame is impressive and was appreciated by the largely female audience that came out to see her perform. Unfortunately, Cafe 9 was a whirlwind of comings and goings. While the group of loyal fans were packed by the front of the stage, the back of the venue became a social scene. The cacophony of chatter appeared to stifle Spaltro’s engagement to the audience. It took several songs for Spaltro to settle in, but when she did, her commanding voice filled the loosely packed Cafe 9. Finally, the passion and edge that dominates her 2013 debut album, Ripely Pine, shone through. Aly Spaltro has all the tenacity of Janis Joplin combined with the seductiveness of Fiona Apple. I noticed several people come in after hearing her compelling vocals spill onto the street.
Whether it was the loud venue or just a rough start, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper pulled out a solid performance. Her deeply personal content makes you forget just how young she is. She’s raw and brutally honest. I just wish she had begun the night with the same amount of confidence she displayed near the end of her set.