I've never witnessed a local music show like the one hosted by Deep Ellum's Trees on Friday night. In fact, it seems more appropriate to label the evening an "experience."
In celebration of her new EP, Visions, singer Sarah Jaffe enlisted several fellow Dallas luminaries for a nonstop, collaborative revue of cutting-edge pop, rock and hip-hop.
The thoughtfully planned and executed two-hour set at the venerable club featured Jaffe trading the spotlight with hip-hop acts Sam Lao and Blue, the Misfit throughout the evening.
Jaffe has come to a place in her career where she's tending a handful of creative fires. Having evolved continually for nearly a decade since her formative gigs playing earnest folk to North Texas' smaller rooms, the 29-year-old now traverses musical styles confidently. Not only has she applied modern rock and electronic influences to her solo recordings, but she's also found creative bliss with Grammy-winning Dallas producer S1 on their budding hip-hop project, the Dividends.
In a section toward the end of last night's show, S1 joined Jaffe on stage as she performed two of their new compositions ("Crossed My Mind" and "Fool's Gold") live for the first time. As she wrapped her always affecting vocals around S1's beat-and-synth backing tracks, the producer stood to her left, fists in the air. It was outward evidence that he's become a kind of rock for her, as well as a kindred creative spirit. The partnership is already quite fruitful: the two are basking in the glory of Eminem's recent Grammy for best rap album, for an LP to which they contributed production and a killer vocal hook.
Before Jaffe and S1's big moment last night, there were plenty of others worthy of cheers from the diverse crowd, especially when rappers Lao and Blue took their turns on stage. Lao went first in the evening's no-breaks rotation, bringing considerable heat and attitude to songs from her 2013 debut West Pantego. Opening song "Run!" segued from atmospheric spoken word poetry into a booming-bass-and-rap banger. A vision in black threads and a frizzy 'fro, Lao captivated onlookers all the way to the back balcony.
Blue, the Misfit is perhaps Dallas' most praised current rapper and a close associate of Lao's. He joined her at the end of her first round and then segued into a turbo-charged mini set of his own. His material, from the brilliant 2014 full-length album Child in the Wild, had him banging his head and delivering hypnotic, mind-bending chants.
As the momentum continued to rise, Blue introduced the evening's "headliner" (whom he referred to as "Young Jaffe") for her first few songs. Veteran keyboard and synth man Scott Danbom (Centro-Matic) and skilled drummer Rob Sanchez helped Jaffe pull off ultra-modern takes on stuff from 2012's The Body Wins and last year's Don't Disconnect. The smoke, colored lights and space-y vocal effects infused "Ride it Out" and "A Sucker for Your Marketing" with just the right amount of drama. It made us long for a future double bill featuring Jaffe and Dallas' St. Vincent. Such a thing might set this popist heart aflutter.
One more round of songs followed for each of the night's featured performers, and the crowd's enthusiasm rarely faded despite a couple of minor technical glitches with electronic elements.
Lao paced the stage and wowed 'em with her new track, "Money," Blue rapped smartly about vices in "Limited Drug Use" and Jaffe brought the house down with a bit of a cappella on "Don't Disconnect." The latter also welcomed sax player Clay Pritchard out to assist on a couple of songs.
Most of the show's cast plus Zhora singer Taylor Rea returned to the stage at the climax to perform the single from the new Jaffe EP, "Vision." It's about believing in one's own creative goals amid critical chatter.
While the subject makes for intelligent and self-aware lyrics, Jaffe shouldn't worry too much about the media's expectations. She's put in years of work in the scene, and is emerging as a creative mixer and leader. She pulled together the kind of complex production last night that I'd like to see more of around these parts.
It's a city of thinking big, right? Take note, musicians.