I’ve always been one to try anything, and when I checked my email and read “she has a melodic, theatrical, punk-noir feel; drawing influences from riot grrrl, opera and R&B. She’s worked with and has the endorsement of Tony Visconti, Morissey, Bowie, Dave Grohl, Nick Zinner and more” I knew I couldn’t pass this up. The artist: Kristeen Young. The venue: Berlin. The occasion: an album release party for “Live at the Witch’s Tit”.
Everything about the night was new to me. I passed by the door of Berlin at least 4 times until I realized the man standing against a bare brick wall next to a door that seemed to lead to nowhere was the doorman I was looking for. I gave my name, got a stamp and proceeded down some candle lit stairs into a small dark foyer. It was 9:45 and Kristeen wasn’t performing until 10:30 so I grabbed myself a drink and mingled throughout the small club. What caught my eye immediately was the diversity of the crowd. Young. Old. A man that looked like a biker next to the poster child for avant garde. And then there was me. Gripping my camera tightly, still not sure what to expect.
But all my worries eased as the crowd inched closer to the stage. Jeff White took his place behind the drum set. Sylvia Black strapped on her bass. And Kristeen Young positioned herself behind her keyboard. With a smash of the keys, the opening notes of “Nice” resonated throughout the tiny venue. And what continued throughout the night was a self-described “emotional spectacle”.
The ambient red light interspersed with blue and purple danced to the music. The man sitting to the right of me kept repeating “this is so fucking good”. The women to my left danced like what I can only describe as a daddy long leg spider, and I was digging it.
The show was loud. Kristeen was loud. Between operatic high notes and teeth gritting low notes, it was sometimes hard to make out exactly what it was she was saying. But her attitude and body language told a story in and of itself. She would step out from behind the keyboard, looping a backing track that she would sing over. And then she’d break into a sort of spoken poetry. All the while contorting her body with Vogue-like hand frames. It was very obvious that this girl has some pipes. Her voice was beautiful, even during her most frantic shrieks.
With a healthy mixture of new songs such as “You Might Be Ted, But I’m Sylvia” and “These are the Things I’m Not the Most” with some fan favorites like “Pearl of a Woman” and closing with “Have You Ever Worked With Anything Hi-Tek?” from her 1999 album “Enemy”, Kristeen controlled the room from the first note to the last keyboard stroke.
The only time she addressed the crowd was to announce that although this was her album release party, unfortunately the vinyl albums weren’t delivered in time but you could still buy a CD “if you’re into that kind of thing”.
So what’s my take away from her performance? I find myself asking, Can a performance be both primal and beautiful? Ear-splitting and soothing? Fierce and calm? Prior to this show, I probably would have answered no. But this was truly an eye-opening experience. If you want to be surrounded by a welcoming crowd, embraced by a different sound and expand your tastes, than this is the artist for you. To pigeon hole her style into one category would be an injustice.
How do you describe Kristeen Young? You don’t. You just experience her.
You can check out Kristeen Young at Berlin (E 2nd Street and Avenue A) on Thursday October 12th for Part 2 of her album release. (They’ll have vinyl this time!)