Melissa Ferrick/Union Hall, Brooklyn

Aquarian Weekly 7/18/07

MELISSA FERRICK UNION HALL Park Slope, Brooklyn6/22/07

Melissa FerrickForced to sit due to what she duly warns the tightly packed audience is “a taping” of her show, Melissa Ferrick, dressed ultra-casually in a plain white tee shirt with rolled up sleeves, jeans and sneakers, cruises through an inspired hour-and-a-half set as if she were a bolt of pure energy tethered to a fraying rope. Bursting, straining, fueled on self-purging lyric, whiplash strumming, and a soaring vocal range, Ferrick is not your run-of-the-mill “angry woman” artist – affected, pouting, rebellious – just the opposite, she is charmingly humble, furtive in her approach, and utterly joyful. And none of it smacks of insincerity. To watch her perform is to be let in, shown all the parts, the emotions, and the fury. And oddly, in a music/image marketplace of fabricated angst and X-chromosome fist pumping, this full-voiced folksinger cum country siren can still manage to kick the collective ass.

Ferrick is a rare breed of artist in that to witness her unique expression you are left feeling as though you are doing her the favor by listening. The songs, many of which appear on her most recent release, “In The Eyes Of Strangers”, unfurl less as a manifesto than a plea, something to be savored rather than ravished; simply crafted chording and infectious melodic structures that seduce rather than assault.

One after the other, Ferrick regales the receptive crowd, crammed into the tiny downstairs room of the quaintly decorated old building, with heartfelt numbers. The wonderful sing-a-long quality of “Never Give Up”, which has the house clapping and bellowing, the churning rhythm of “Inside”, or the deceptively cheerful, “Closer” are songs which reveal approachable emotions like fear of commitment, insecurity in relationships, and the strands of an unruly life beginning to, albeit reluctantly, “settle in”.

“I like to interact with people, get them to tell me what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling as best they can; in a way that’s not destructive to either them or me – so as to not drag them through the trenches of my life. It’s kind of an interesting crossroad.”

In a recent conversation, Ferrick discusses her method to locate these endearing odes to relatable everyday battles; “The best way for me to write is at home, just sitting in the living room with the television on mute for stimulation. Certainly all the best songs come from absolutely nowhere, out of the blue, when I’m a little agitated or annoyed with something, but I don’t know what it is, and then usually a week or so after that I’ll write a bunch of songs and I’ll go; ‘Oh, I guess I just needed to get the emotions out of my head and down on paper’.”

In most cases, as with all truly effective songwriting, Melissa Ferrick songs are so eerily relevant, their meanings, even to the writer, become ambiguously open-ended. “I know it’s a good song if I don’t even realize what it’s really about,” she explains. “I like the songs that other people help me understand, and then I’m like; ‘You know what? You’re right’.”

An excellent example of Ferrick’s signature style is the understatedly brilliant, “Come On Life”, a wistful ballad to what I immediately dubbed as “justifiable paranoia”, which she politely chuckled upon hearing. It pulls no punches, raw and unapologetic, utilizing the words “back-stabbing” in almost every refrain. I queried if it might be about anyone in particular, akin to Alanis Morissette’s controversial “You Oughta Know”.

“When I first wrote it and started playing it live I didn’t have the ending part, the last line; ‘There’s a singer out here and she’s stabbing.’ That just came out when I was playing it and I thought, ‘That’s how to turn this around and have the audience think that maybe it’s me I’m singing about’.”

No matter what she might be singing about, Ferrick is a proficient vocalist with a natural ability to sound demure, subtly whispering, and then, out of nowhere, belt out a long, high, ripping note, tearing through the room with reckless abandon. Likening herself more a “rock and roller” than “folk”, which she argues is a lazy way the music business attaches a genre on every woman singer/songwriter – “Do you really think Joni Mitchell is a folksinger?” she exclaims; Ferrick displays an array of dynamics, creating the illusion that an entire ensemble is accompanying her.

By show’s end, she is sweaty, breathless, and exhibiting the exhausted smile of an artist who has just shared a genuine experience with her audience, and by her effusive praise of the overwhelming cheers, she’s glad to have sparked it.

I’m not much of a quiet wanderer,” Ferrick chuckled embarrassingly a few days before the performance, providing a fair glimpse behind what sparks her. “I like to interact with people, get them to tell me what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling as best they can; in a way that’s not destructive to either them or me – so as to not drag them through the trenches of my life. It’s kind of an interesting crossroad.”

On this night the crossroad is an historic Union Hall in Brooklyn, New York.

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