It's nobody's fault, but sometimes precious-gem gigs go unnoticed by the greater Tucson music intelligentsia. Such was the case when Austin's Little Brave played a terrific concert for a crowd that topped out at nine people. Maybe the band might've been more comfortable playing in Plush's more-intimate lounge area.
Little Brave is the performing name of singer-songwriter Stephanie Briggs, and it also refers to her band, which back home usually comprises a full five-piece rock combo. For the current tour, it's just Briggs and boyfriend K Phillips, a member of Little Brave and an excellent singer-songwriter in his own right. They were a musical tag-team during the two-hour set, their styles contrasting but complementary. On Little Brave tunes, Briggs played guitar or electric piano, while Phillips thumped a single drum and tapped a tambourine with his foot, occasionally squeezing an accordion. When he played his material, she took her place behind the floor tom.
Briggs sang insightful, playful and sometimes confessional tunes—most recently represented on her excellent album Wound and Will—in a sultry, authoritative voice. Even in a stripped-down setting, it was clear that her melodic style of pop-rock is inspired by jazz and Tin Pan Alley. She could be brassy and vulnerable, sometimes in the same song, such as the tragic "You Didn't Mean It." Even lacking a full band, her "Mercy" had a barreling momentum, fueling the catharsis of a broken love affair.
Phillips, whose album comes out later this year, draws more from country, blues and Americana, with a generous helping of backwoods funk. In his vivid story songs, such as "What I Can't Have" and "To Dance With You," one can hear kindred spirits such as Leon Russell, Guy Clark, early Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen. On most of his numbers, you could imagine the Muscle Shoals horns filling out the arrangements. He sounded as good on spooky slide guitar as he did invoking gospel and soul on the piano.
It's a shame that listeners who appreciate thoughtful songwriting, nimble musicianship and charming, personable performances missed this gig. No worries, though: Despite the meager turnout, Briggs and Phillips promised to play Tucson again soon.