Great Northern, Emily Long, Tracy SheddPlush, Thursday, June 28
Sure, it's nice to tarry over dinner, wait until that TV show ends or take a power nap before a night out. But if you're among the reasons audiences are sparse until the headliner takes the stage, missing an act like Tracy Shedd should be a wake-up call.
As the first opener for Great Northern--Tucson punk-pop princess Emily Long was in the middle--Shedd stunned early birds with the strength of her vocals; she sings like four-track-era Liz Phair, but with more control and less innuendo.
Shedd's lyrics are punk simple, but they're overlaid on complex melodies. Her husband, James Tritten, counterpoints on electric guitar with intricate fills ranging from tender to searing. Fortunately, you'll have lots more chances to see them; they've just relocated from Florida, and Shedd's working at Wavelab on her fourth release.
Los Angeles outfit Great Northern is a buttoned-down crew with an indie-pop presence worthy of central casting. Their hip-casual, color-coordinated outfits and decorative lighting perfectly blend irony with class, but they could've played in rumpled T-shirts. They've got the goods.
Comprising veterans of other SoCal bands (some may remember a couple of members from Earlimart), the quartet released its full-length debut, Trading Twilight for Daylight, in May, but you'd think they'd been together forever. Singers Rachel Stolte, who also plays keyboards, and Solon Bixler, who plays guitar, have such perfectly matched voices that their harmonies are more like an outline that shifts between shadows and highlights, all the while keeping harmony and phrasing impossibly close.
Great Northern songs mostly revolve around danger in relationships. Musically, they're unfalteringly pretty and pretty edgy at the same time. "Home" offers spooky insight into the eggshell-walking atmosphere around returning from a hospital stay: "Talked to the doctor / he said you're well for home / take all your medicine / make sure you're never alone ... for the rest of your life / you're gonna be high." Fittingly, the song opens with a suppressed squall.
A bit homesick after a month on the road, newlywed bassist Ashley Dzerigian shone on "Just a Dream," which features a throaty bass part underscoring a lyric suggesting an abusive relationship. The pop hit of the set was the jangly "Into the Sun" with its irresistible chorus, but of the 106-degree Tucson day, Stolte told the crowd, "We're from L.A., and we're wimps, and we can't take it!"