First time in the Alchemy Room of the new and improved Empire (formerly Jaxx). The Alchemy Room is the front area where they still have a bar and some of the seating they had before. It's name perhaps comes from the Escher prints adorning the walls? Well that's a stretch, but booking this area is a very good idea because you can get almost as many people in here as you can at the DC9, while you save the large stage for the big acts. It works for the Black Cat at least.
There was good attendance for the near-6pm start as Erin Kuhn, Alex Lease, and Roryn Feller all played short acoustic guitar and vocal sets. They were a bit rough, but decent enough with Lease being the most interesting to me. There was the usual shuffling in and out of friends and families that often happens, but the room stayed crowded all night. I found it a little odd that most if not all the performers did not stick around for the headliner and other acts as they all could have learned some things this night.
Zahra Universe - A bit of equipment for this set, as there were a few drums set up along with a keyboard for Ms. Universe who also sings. There was also and acoustic guitar in the mix. Initially, I didn't think it was coming together too well, although it was nice enough pop-folk music. As the set went on, with one song featuring guitar and another a solo keyboard, Zahra Universe showed off her vocal strength to great effect. And she is off to Paris to record a song for the African Cup of Nations (the soccer tournament if I heard this right), so like Rodriguez (playing 6th+I on the 30th), she may be a surprise hit in Africa while still finding her audience here. The talent is there to find a good sized audience and hopefully next time I will get to see more than the 23-minute set tonight. And credit to her for staying around and chatting with Cathy Richardson after the show as there was some common ground between these two excellent vocalists.
Cyrenic - This four-piece from Frederick, Maryland, is fully acoustic, but has two guitars, bass, and congas. They cook up a great sound and one guitarist played acoustic leads which were a nice addition. The rhythm section was spot on and the songs and singing of Brian Zuckerman showed mature and depth. He had a Fred Neil quality in his voice and a good sense of drama to the delivery. The crowd was as noisy as a Black Cat Crowd with some Pitchfork 8.0 or better band playing, so I could not quite lose myself into this music as much as I would have liked. But considering that and only 22 minutes of playing, they still earned a spot on my list of 'need to see again' bands.
Cathy Richardson - I am quickly coming up to speed with the excellent work of Cathy Richardson. I had a chance to interview her earlier this year and then catch a Jefferson Starship show where she serves as their lead singer. But she has another band called Macrodots that sounds quite interesting, as well as solo and band work featuring her original material. Tonight, it is a solo acoustic guitar and vocal setting, although she brings her 'magic box' of backing tracks that features choral arrangements, beats, and some string arrangements among other things. These sound are all fairly subtle as her acoustic guitar playing is strong and pushes the music forward. And then there is her voice which everyone in the world will expect to be great, since Ms. Richardson has both followed Grace Slick in an immortal band as well as sang the Janis Joplin catalog in the musical, "Love Janis". The great thing about this 65 minute set was how varied the songs were. There were some that touched on rootsy even country moments like a Bonnie Raitt, with others that went into powerful blues singing. Ultimately, rock music was most prevalent, but there were both classic singer-songwriter style present and moving to modern moves with the brilliant song, "Tiny Particles". Maybe it was that Who-"Tommy" jean vest she was wearing, but she did invoke some Pete Townshend rhythm guitar and pop composition moves a couple of times. There was a long, but excellent childhood story she told over guitar before it morphed into a rewarding song. The few people that had not been fully pulled into this set were now fully absorbed. She changed tunings, added some psyche effects, proved how she would be hired to sing Joplin with her killer take on "Aquarius", before finally blasting out "Somebody to Love". I expected this to be good, but the heights were even larger and the variety greater than I had imagined. Cathy Richardson is definitely someone to catch in any of her solo or band projects.
Quote of the Night: Cathy Richardson "I have a merch table in the back where you can get 'Delusions of Grandeur', the greatest album ever...please support my delusions."