Rain poured down around us, drenching our shoes and any part of us that wouldn’t fit under our umbrella meant for one. Despite the darkness set upon us by this overcast and drizzle, the streetlights provided no support, casting our feet into one puddle after another. After taking a chance and going the wrong way, we wandered back and found our destination.
“We’re here for the show.”
With apologies, we were informed that we’d have to wait, as another event was in process. They’d let us in when it was finished – at showtime. Taking our soaking selves to the bar, we nursed a drink for 45 minutes, occasionally trying to have a conversation when those around us quieted to take a sip of their own brand of choice. A watched kettle never boils.
Much to our dismay, as we made our way down the stairs and heard a familiar sound, we saw the band we’d come to see was already playing. Where was the opener? How much of the set had we missed? Quick to find seats as close as possible – we were at the Hill Country BBQ in Washington D.C. – we soon found out that there had been some confusion early on and so they would be playing a few tunes, handing the stage over to the opener, and returning again for a longer set. A warm wave of relief washed over me. They, of course, are SHEL: an all-female four-piece from Fort Collins, Colo., who blend pop, folk, classical, and rock into unique creations that delight the ears. Oh, and they just happen to all be sisters.
The mid-set opener, ALFONSO VELEZ, a singer-songwriter from New York City, initially caught our attention with a massive build-up of feedback from his guitar. Actually, at it turned out, this was intentional and an effect he had built into his pedal board. While it was a little loud, especially for those of us sitting close to the stage, it certainly made an impression. A portion of the way through his set, he called upon SHEL’s drummer, Liza, to join him for a spur of the moment jam. She looked as surprised as anyone, but joined him nonetheless. For someone caught completely off-guard, she was on point the entire time and helped give more dimension to the song. Velez had a great voice, but I feel that outside of the duet performance, the limitations of the single guitar didn’t do his music justice. I’d recommend you head over to his page and check out his self-titled release. It’s free to listen.
SHEL returned to the stage and, after conquering some peculiar soundboard issues which suddenly arose, proceeded with what I felt to be a really fun set! I had only found out about the band within the two weeks preceding the show, so I neither owned their album or had a chance to get acquainted with much of it prior to seeing them live. What I had been able to do was to rummage through their fantastic music videos, and so certain songs like “The Man Who Was The Circus,” “Freckles” and “When The Dragon Came Down” rang familiar to my ears. I made sure to rectify this and had bought their full-length album in between the sets!
“Who here is a fan of LED ZEPPELIN?”
My hand shot up enthusiastically. These gals do a killer version of Zeppelin’s “The Battle Of Evermore.” The vocal harmonies employed, which are regularly used in SHEL’s own songs and beautifully arranged, were hauntingly exchanged between Eva, Hannah, and Sarah here. Hannah’s accordion playing helped fill the atmosphere, and Liza’s djembe added a sensitive touch. Sensitive, that is, until she exploded with a flurry of percussion that would have left Bonham applauding. What doesn’t seem to translate completely on the album, which, by the way, I am now becoming quite fond of, is how such gentle sounds can grow to enormous proportions live. Like a soft flowing stream, the combination of Sarah’s violin, Hannah’s piano, and Eva’s mandolin serenade the listener, only to suddenly change into a raging river as Liza joins her sisters. But this isn’t to say that Liza is that raging river, but rather that the synergy of the four of them manages to become greater than any of them alone. Not only do the drums add to the volume, but each individual instrument seems to build as they come together. It’s incredibly powerful and caught me completely off guard.
Other notable points of the evening included the announcement that Hannah was working on a solo album, followed by a stunning classically inspired composition. Later in the night, she and Liza went into an incredibly funky jam session, while Sarah and Eva stepped off stage to give them the spotlight. But what may have thrown everyone a little off in their expectations that evening was when Sarah boldly announced that Liza would be beat boxing. I’m still a bit shocked by how good it was, and she even included a bit of dubstep to awe us. This led to a number of drunken shouts, all from one gentleman, about how Liza was his favorite. Sarah assured him that the youngest sister was their favorite as well, and I marveled at how reserved she remained despite his incessant yelling. But Sarah and Eva both excelled this evening as well. Sarah’s phrasing and melodies were captivating and her fingers moved with ease, even as things sped up. Meanwhile, Eva’s voice was mesmerizing throughout the night and it was amazing to watch her blindly find all the right notes while gazing upon the audience.
As “The Teacher Is Here” came to an end and they thanked everyone for coming, I made my way up to the front of the stage. Okay, so it was five feet away, so it didn’t take that long. I had struck up a conversation with the ladies in between their sets and introduced myself and they were all very pleasant, with three of them complimenting my Star Wars shirt and talking photography with my girlfriend. After a short chat with Sarah following the show, we struck up a conversation with Liza, discussing her instrument career, necklaces, and authentic Indiana Jones hats! While my encounter with Hannah was rather short, it was undoubtedly pleasant before she had to go load up their van. Our last stop was to compliment Eva on her performance before they all chipped in to pack up, during which we discussed the difficulties of learning instruments and our mutual enjoyment of the mandolin. While she seemed a bit timid on stage, she was all smiles face to face and I was happy to get to exchange a few words.
Leaving was much more pleasant than arriving. We passed Liza and Hannah on the street and wished them a safe and successful tour, with them bidding us good travels as well. I made sure to let Hannah know how beautiful her solo piece had been and that we were looking forward to hearing the other songs she’d written. As we made our way back down the street, this time much dryer and well lit, I began to reflect on the events that had just transpired. The girls in SHEL provide a fantastic show, not the least bit normal, but all of which is entertaining. From what I’ve seen, ladies, you’re doing everything right. You’re being yourselves – don’t grow out of it.
For more photos of the evening, click here!