Nina Nastasia is small but powerful. Wearing a simple black shift dress, knee-highs and heels, her hair glamorously piled on her head in two Princess Leia-like blooms, she could be Audrey Hepburn. And her partner, Kennan Gudjonsson, by contrast, is tall and bearded--standing together at Plush, Nastasia looked wee, while Gudjonsson towered. Nastasia's music, though, is both large and small--when she gets on stage, she wrenches things from her vocal chords and acoustic guitar that are hundreds of times her size in volume and intensity. Quiet songs were layered in with older, louder songs from previous albums, and Nastasia and her backing band weathered the changes seamlessly. Nastasia is one of those musicians who employs the same basic guitar chords in nearly every song, but makes it different each time, and makes it all look so easy. She did a one-song encore, and left the crowd wanting more.
Likewise, Loch Lomond's Ritchie Young looks like a young Irish lad, and his music follows suit, weaving from sparse folk guitar to lush percussion and strings. "Virgin Mountain" drew me back in from the patio with its euphoric refrain of "freedom, freedom to travel," and during one song that featured na-na-na-nas, drummer Peter Broderick (also of Norfolk and Western) and a guest singer picked up those tube-like toys that make that eerie whistling sound and swung them over their heads, ushering in the climax with heightened intensity. It was one of the best live music moments I've seen.
Sadly, I did not see openers Pearl Handled Pistol, Emilie Marchand and Mike Bagesse's new project, but before Loch Lomond, Tucson's own Marianne Dissard came onstage in a sparkling halter top, and I didn't even recognize her until she began to sing. Her style is so distinct, though, that even if she were wearing a bear costume, her voice would betray her identity. It's about time Dissard had her own musical project--she's written many a song for Naim Amor, and sometimes performs with Calexico--and so naturally, her solo material is polished and thoughtful, French and sultry, smoky, beautiful and sad, as Amor's guitar provides a reverberating backbone.