St. James Hall
January 28th, 2007
Lisa Germano is one of those rare artists who has established a certain amount of critical acclaim, but remains unknown to most social hipsters and indie rock enthusiasts. She has been releasing her own records since 1991 and has also recorded as a guest musician with legendary artists such as Iggy Pop and David Bowie in addition to appearing on records by Sheryl Crow and John Cougar (Jack and Diane, Life Goes On, and a whole lot of other awful shit) Mellencamp. Don’t let the latter two names force you towards instant dismissal because she has produced a back catalog of fantastic records and she is privy to a style that is entirely her own. Her songs are fragile and melancholy, but they are sometimes psychedelic and at other times carnivalesque. Imagine if The Doors were led by a demure, soft-spoken female instead of the towering presence of someone like Jim Morrison and you will be getting somewhere close to Germano’s strange world.
On Sunday, January 28th, I saw Lisa Germano open up for Michael Brook, another former 4AD artist, and then she joined him onstage during his set as a support musician. She mainly performed material from her two recent albums, 2003’s Lullaby for Liquid Pig and In the Maybe World, from last year. Opening with a pair of songs from her new record, “In the Land of Fairies” and “Golden Cities,” she thus set the tone for the evening. The second song she claims was written by her late cat while it was dying. I don’t know what that means, but it doesn’t much matter when you hear her inflection in the lyrics, “Come around my room tonight/As you’re riding/As you ride away.” Describing Lisa Germano’s music is not an easy thing to do. Her songs are slow and her delicate, breathy vocals cut right through the listener. She has a visceral quality to her voice like a cross between a less death obsessed and on key Nico and a Tori Amos who faded into obscurity early in her career. Germano played the first half of her set accompanied with just her keyboard, which actually belonged to Brook. Highlights from this part of the show were “Guillotine” from 1998’s Slide and Except for the Ghosts, an elegiac piece written about Jeff Buckley. For the second half of her performance, she switched to guitar and accompanied herself just as gracefully with the instrument. “Red Thread,” written about the final phone conversation in a failing relationship, was a good choice to play for the unassuming Vancouver crowd and it raised some eyebrows in the audience with the call and response chorus of, “Go to hell. Fuck you.” Most singers can’t get away very easily with such lyrics, but Lisa’s devastating voice is so evocative that it is capable of making just about any line in the English language sound sonorous. Perhaps the best song of the evening was “Into the Night” from Lullaby for Liquid Pig. The song swirls with aching melody and a certain late night desperation that Germano has down to a genuine science. The song begins with the lines, “In the wrong time/In the wrong place/In the wrong mind.” The theme of that album was alcoholism and in particular it deals with the acceptance of her addiction and eventual capitulation to the substance. In a heartbreaking, but confident voice she concludes the song by singing, ” Close your eyes/It’s not a pretty sight/And I’ll tell you what/It’s not gonna be alright/This time.” After the main set of primarily wistful material, she closed the evening with “Small Heads,” an upbeat (for Germano anyway) single from 1995’s terrific Excerpts from a Love Circus.
Between sets she sold some merchandise and I had the opportunity to speak to her for a few minutes. For the time being it looks like Michael Gira, the former Swans frontman and owner of her current label, wants her to record another album for the New York based Young God Records. Michael Gira regards her so highly in fact that he even tried to put out her last record three years ago. She plans on following through with this request, but has not yet begun writing new material so it may be a while until that happens. In the meantime, however, she hopes to reschedule some headlining shows on the West coast that were canceled back in December.