Hotel Cafe - June 29, 2009
Live Review by Amber Henson
There is something far more intimate about watching someone play a piano than play the guitar. With the guitar, it's in your arms, it's yours, and you're playing it. But singers on tour rarely bring their own piano along. So it's a strange object that you are forced to make your own. Oftentimes, there's no easy way to look at the audience, so the singer must just trust that they are being entertaining. And something about the complicated flutter of fingers seems more personal than holding down a few frets.
Vienna Teng was in this exact position at Hotel Cafe. And she performed wonderfully. I had found both albums that I reviewed full of talent and excitement, but nothing there particularly endeared me to her. All that changed after seeing her perform. She's so easy with the audience, so at home, and puts herself out there in such a way that made us all at ease. She played solo, except for two songs from Inland Territory, when she was accompanied by Jim Bianco on the accordion and the clarinet. The piano was pushed to the side of the tiny stage, so her back was turned to most of the audience. But I liked it that way, we could watch her hands dance on the keys, and reflect in the polished wood.
One of the best parts of her short nine song set was how she used a playback recorder. She taped both herself and the audience. Teng brought in the electronics slowly, at first just asking her listeners to sing a couple of low, chorus notes for her, which she played back at the end of a song. Eventually, she was doing some very complicated playbacks with it, involving her sounds from her hands and her voice. It was really quite impressive.
The culmination of her set was one of my favorite songs from Inland Territory, "Grandmother Song", which is from the point of view of her grandmother. For this track, she asked the audience to clap with her, stamp their feet and holler from time to time while she sang acoustically. She was mesmerizing, with nothing between her and us but a microphone stand. Watching Teng is truly a treat, since one can't help but be drawn in by her talent and charisma.
Vienna Teng - Dreaming Through the Noise
Vienna Teng - Inland Territory
More by this writer:
Thao / Sister Suvi - Live - April 29, 2009
Mates of State - Live - April 23, 2009
The Lovemakers - Live - March 17, 2009
Peter Adams - I Woke With Planets In My Face