Saturday, May 2

Sitting at the keyboard in her cowboy boots and with a flower in her hair, Vienna Teng looked like her music sounds—lithe, lilting, smart and soulful. Between songs, she chatted about her travels and the stories behind her songs, as if we were all sitting around a little table on Maynards' back patio, drinking spring brews and watching the train go by.

Teng's career to date is both a tribute to unquenchable talent and an object lesson in the perils of intellect and music-theory mastery, all attached to a pop sensibility. She does not rock. Her music will forever be simply, breathtakingly beautiful. Fortunately, voice lessons didn't take; she says they kept telling her she was doing it all wrong. One suspects "they" didn't appreciate the charm of her vocals' occasionally conversational intimacy.

Had she been a good voice student, her natural range and control likely would've landed her in opera or on Broadway, neither of which would suit her spirit. Somewhere in there is a punk wannabe. You can glimpse a bit of its fizz in Teng's attitude, and it all hangs out in the intergenerational crossfire of "Grandmother Song," a semi-gospel blues rave-up that she says was recorded under the influence of free-flowing sangria in the studio.

In the beauty contest, she clearly has too much personal integrity to be Celine Dion (her poetry has nary a whiff of sap, anyway) and too much class to be Mariah Carey. Tori Amos, maybe? She is none of those, so we were privileged to sit, maybe 100 strong, in Club Congress, seven years after her first appearance on David Letterman, awestruck and helplessly tapped in to some romantic streak in our rock-hardened souls.

Opener Ben Sollee is the Andrew Bird of the cello. Who knew a cello could sound like an electric guitar and a bass playing at the same time? Or horns and percussion? Unlike Bird, Sollee plays it straight and, at least on Saturday night, solo. His music ranges from singer-songwriter poignancy to show-tune catchiness with rich streaks of indie pop. He has a sense of fun, albeit with an edge. A part-time environmental advocate, he brought knowing chuckles from the crowd with "Bury Me With My Car," a mock paean to America's fossil-fuel fixation.


More by Linda Ray


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