Valerie June + Oh Pep! @ Club Soda – February 8th 2017

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The ice outside my apartment is thick and the wind has been less than kind this week, so it was especially nice to find a Wednesday night away from weather and work to duck into the warmth of Club Soda. Early on in their set, the members of Oh Pep! expressed awe at extreme Canadian temperatures, offering their congratulations and sympathy. Together with Valerie June, they put on a warm hug of a show that made it all just a little more bearable.

Coming from Melbourne, Australia, Oh Pep! opened the night with a set of comforting and compelling folk-pop. While this summer’s debut full-length Stadium Cake (recorded in Nova Scotia) features full band instrumentation, Oh Pep! brought just the core duo of Olivia Hally and Pepina Emmerichs to Club Soda. With Hally wielding an acoustic guitar and Pepina pulling double-duty on mandolin and fiddle, the two longtime friends brought teamwork and inviting vocal harmonies to the crowd of cold Canadians.

Starting with the dissonant mandolin and fiery Sharon Van Etten-esque vocals of “Wanting” before moving into the bouncier rhythm of frozen travelogue “Bushwick”, Oh Pep! bring new depth to the familiar acoustic coffeehouse vibes of the genre. Their songs are clever, sad, angry, and sweet – and sometimes, as in highlight “The Race” and its pizzicato fiddle, all four at once. The duo took every opportunity to share their warmth and candor with the crowd, prefacing centerpiece “Crazy Feels” with a breakup story that would be sad if it wasn’t so bizarre (receiving a text containing nothing more than a photo of a goodbye letter). After finishing, they commented: “it’s hard singing sad songs when you’re so happy to be here”. We’re cool.

Valerie June has lived in New York – but she was born and raised in Tennessee, and she’s proud to show off her roots. This reaches way farther than the twang in her voice, her familial repartee, and song titles like “Tennessee Time”. June’s creative output is a swirling stew of musical influences and genres, harnessed by her kickass band, channeled through her own musical chops, and anchored by a voice unlike any I’ve heard before.

Her entrance announced by a relaxed drum solo, June first walked onto the stage and picked up a banjo to lead the the band through a bluesy groove. But for the next song, the banjo came down and the band switched gears to the Appalachian-folk-meets-call-and-response doo-wop of “The Hour”. June’s vocal register is high but full, gritty without being guttural, and powerful but controlled – and she’s able to mold it to any occasion.

Bouncing easily from the spacey folk of “Astral Plane” to the John Lee Hooker electric guitar stomp of “Shakedown” and the country waltz of “Tennessee Time”, June’s top-notch musicianship, emotional vocals, and dreamy banter kept the crowd absolutely hooked. June’s new record The Order of Time is due out this March, and if this set was indication, no two tracks are going to sound alike – but they’re all going to sound fantastic.

Maybe everyone was as happy as I was to just have a couple of hours away from the cold world outside, but throughout the entire length of the show, I was pleasantly surprised to see an almost complete lack of faces illuminated by phone-glow. Seated and totally into it, Club Soda listened in polite silence and erupted with appreciative applause after every song. After an already stellar set, this created a suitably intimate setting for June to offer up a 5-song encore before sending us into the icy night with exuberant banjo-soul and a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Review – Dan Corber

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