The last time I went to Alex’s Bar, I almost got into a fight (standard procedure in the life of a badass). As I spent a large portion of the evening hiding out and ducking for cover (also standard procedure…don’t you judge), I missed out on the glorious eye-feast that is Alex’s Bar’s walls. But Sunday night, as I made my way through the crimson-walled room, I fully took in the smorgasbord of room décor. There were vintage beer ads, paintings of Elvis, backlit cuts out of the Virgin Mary and Dios De Los Muertos skulls, but the piece that caught my eye was a McDonald’s drive-thru sign hanging in an upper corner. The famous golden arrow was pointed straight at the stage, but instead of the words “Drive-Thru,” cursive lettering spelled out “Welcome to Hell.”
What hell could possibly follow, I wondered, as local singer Brenda Carseyset up her keyboard on stage. After all, she’d already proven her skill as one-fifth of the greatness that is Feral Kizzy, and I was ready to see the wallop she’d pack as a solo act. Carsey took the stage with bassist Andy Goettsch and drummer Neal Daniels, a sparse set up in comparison to what I’d seen from her before. But soon as Brenda opened her mouth to sing “Alone,” the room was drawn in by her vocal chops and enigmatic presence. The song was a jazzy lament to a single-girl’s life, something I’d expect from Fiona Apple, but upbeat and infectious; I’ve never had so much fun hearing the words “woe is me” and “I’m alone.”
“Alone” was just the start of a sweet, thirty-minute set that included tracks from Brenda’s 2010 album “Step Outside” and the 2011 “Side Show.” The room sat entranced as she sang, motionless apart from her hands on the keys and a few subtle facial expressions. Each song was filled with melodic and vocal surprises that captured our attention and (in the case of one table of young gentlemen) inspired some interpretive hand gestures and singing along. Brenda’s voice is, in a word, uninhibited. She plays with soulful low notes, a raspy, rock belt and playful, even childish high notes, sometimes all in the same song. She confidently tackled different genres, too – she even took on an acoustic performance of “Please Just Listen,” complete with trackmate Abstract’s rap interlude (all due respect to Abstract, Brenda rocked that rap like none other).
“If you were ever gonna be comfortable in your skin and move or dance, now would be the time,” Brenda explained before heading into her final song, “Blending In.” The jazz-infused number got resounding applause, and aptly so, since it was freaking awesome. A line formed almost immediately to pick up Brenda’s EP, which is available fromiTunes for those of you who missed this unforgettable performance. The next show is June 2nd at LA’s Hive Gallery, and I can guarantee Ms. Carsey will be setting the world on fire, showing us all that this hell ain’t so bad.