Minus the explosive light show, video screens and pyrotechnics of more established acts, these four women armed only with their voices and the instruments at hand, will leave you SHEL-shocked.
The dimly-lit little venue on Allen Street, within shouting distance of New York City's Bowery Mission, played host to four brilliant young musicians from the wide open spaces of Colorado on a somewhat blamy spring evening. Collectively known as SHEL, Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza (look at the first letter of each name to figure out why they're called SHEL) are four classically trained musicians that deliver an exquisite blend of pop, folk, classical and indie sounds in a mostly acoustic musical setting. Having heard their fine EP, When the Dragon Came Down, this somewhat skeptical New Yorker had a hopeful but still 'wait-and-see' approach to the live performance of the quartet of young ladies, the oldest of which still on the shy side of her mid-twenties. Could they pull off the dreamy, complex, richly melodic sound of the recording?
Yep. They totally nailed it.
Walking through the front door of the Rockwood Music Hall and up onto the small stage, the members of SHEL – minus a full drum kit and bass player – had a brief tune-up and immediately went into the music. The sound was perfectly balanced, rich and full. Percussion was handled creatively by Liza, on the far right side of the stage, who used the djembe, handclaps, and finger-popping and even her own voice to keep an edge on the sound and the rhythm in the pocket. Opposite Liza, Hannah provided a bed of sound on the keyboard, also nicely filling in on some of the low-end that might otherwise go to the bass player. The visual center is shared by Eva on mandolin and Sarah on violin, who also emerge as the 'hosts' of the evening.
Creating an instrumental sound somewhere between Eisley (another stunning 'family' group), The Annie Moses Band (ditto) and Bruce Cockburn, SHEL manages to impress with impeccable musicianship while engaging the emotions with poetic lyrics, romantic melody and the kind of organically-homogenous vocal harmony that's special to siblings and makes the rest of us singers jealous. Minus the explosive light show, video screens and pyrotechnics of more established acts, these four women armed only with their voices and the instruments at hand, will leave you SHEL-shocked.
The eight-song set featured music from When The Dragon Came Down as well as the forthcoming full-length project. A particularly stunning surprise was the mandolin / violin duet, "Tuscany," - a classically-inspired instrumental piece written by Eva at the age of sixteen for an endorsement with Weber mandolins! Of course, the mandolin/violin/keyboard/vocal harmony combination combined with the hybrid classical/pop approach sounds an awful lot like a description of The Annie Moses Band, but SHEL has a less 'pretty' sound than the AMB, and would appeal to a broader, more urban, 'hip' constituency. Oh – and, guys... they're easy on the eyes, too.
Not lacking their own special style and charm, Sarah, Hannah, Eva and Liza dress in a kind of vintage/goth style with hints of home-made tweaking, right down to feathers and top hats. Their stage presence is confident and poised, without the in-your-face bravado that marks (negatively) so many young bands that you might see in a typical New York club. SHEL stood up well to the challenge of the notoriously jaded New York public, throwing down the gauntlet of good music and emerging victorious.
Words and pictures: Bert Saraco / Express Image