SHEL in concert features four women who are master instrumentalists performing songs both whimsical and thoughtful, often pointing lyrically to a world of imagination and hopefulness.

SHEL – Live in NYC at The Mercury Lounge April 19, 2016


Almost exactly a year since their last visit to NYC and almost exactly one month before their new Dave Stewart-produced project, Just Crazy Enough hits the streets (May 13, to be exact), the quadrigeminal sibling act known as SHEL performed a well-crafted set at New York City’s iconic Mercury Lounge. Smaller than The Brooklyn Bowl, larger than The Rockwood Music Hall, The Mercury is a significant step up from both of those venues simply by virtue of name recognition and the level of the acts it hosts (earlier this year MuteMath made a stop there on the lead-up tour to the release of Vitals). Even as an opening act, SHEL is clearly making major inroads as they trek toward national recognition.

Sarah, Hannah, Eva, and Liza (look at the first letter of each name and connect the dots) performed a tight set of music from their self-titled debut album as well as selections from Just Crazy Enough. A season of intense touring has produced a more poised, more stage-savvy quartet of women than we’d seen in past performances. That’s not to say that there was ever anything lacking in what they brought to the table – but SHEL 2016 has learned to play the room as well as they play their respective instruments, and that, by the way, is very, very impressive.  Despite some typically inappropriate New York cat-calls, the ladies onstage pleased the faithful that came to see them and also won over many new fans.

Performing on violin (Sarah), keyboard (Hannah), mandolin and guitar (Eva), and djembe and vocal beatbox (Liza), SHEL creates a combination of indie/folk/Americana/pop that occasionally segues toward classical and teases at rock (yes, it’s true – they do cover a Led Zeppelin song). This essentially acoustic blend is added to by the haunting lead vocals of Eva Holbrook and the textured layers of vocal harmony by her siblings. Don’t write these distinctively-dressed ladies (who were steam-punk before steam-punk was a thing) off as moon-eyed oh-so-sensitive balladeers, though – when Liza slaps into the percussion, and those violin strings get plucked, with the mandolin setting up a funky rhythm and the piano accenting the tempo and bass lines, SHEL can get a seriously visceral groove on. The dynamic between the sisters works not only as a big plus in terms of stage presence but seems to manifest in a symbiotic musical interplay.

SHEL’s repertoire includes songs both whimsical and thoughtful, often pointing lyrically to a world of imagination and hopefulness. Musically, these women are masters of their respective instruments, allowing enough breathing space to infuse emotion into the music (Eva seemed particularly affected by the evening’s performance of “Is The Doctor In Today,” a song from the new album which quite literally brought a tear to her eye – and, I think, to the eyes of some audience members).

Musically stunning, emotionally affecting, teamed with an impressive producer, and riding the momentum of having a strong sophomore release on the way, it’s a good time to see this band. These are talented young women who have a bright future. And, yes – ‘quadrigeminal’ is a real word – it means ‘consisting of four parts, and in this case the sum of the parts equals SHEL. And that’s cool.

  • Bert Saraco

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