West Coast talents featured at the Blue Mouse
The Blue Mouse Theatre on Proctor hosted an informal music festival on April 11 of three talented musical groups, each of whom showed off their unique styles through a variety of musical genres and pieces.
The first act, What She Said, introduced themselves as Puget Sound’s “only all-women a cappella group.”
What She Said’s first piece was a cover of Alicia Keys’s “Fallin’,” arranged by Stephanie Gates, in which the deep, soulful voice of soloist Jennifer Kullby balanced nicely with the lighter background singers and the rhythm vocalists.
Following this, they covered Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.” Their version replaced the stylistic monotone of the original song with an arrangement that was light, airy and melodic. This occasionally matched oddly with the harsh emphasis on line endings which they carried over from Heap’s original version of the song, though the new melodic tone was indisputably elegant.
What She Said also performed Dolly Parton’s classic country song “Jolene.” Both soloists, Stephanie Gates and Aubrey Lawrence, excelled at the chorus, which required impressive command of long, high notes.
The group closed with Lauren Park’s arrangement of Ke$ha’s “Your Love is a Drug,” bringing more than a few amused giggles from the audience.
Next for the stage was Stephanie Anne Johnson, a self-proclaimed, “friendly neighborhood guitar picker,” from Tacoma, well known for her impressive run on the television show “The Voice.”
Johnson opened with a cover of Emeli Sandé’s “Next To Me.” While on “The Voice,” Johnson trained with Christian Aguilera and CeeLo Green, and with her opening number, this training really showed. Johnson’s voice was rich and full and wholly satisfying. Her rendition of Sandé’s piece had a lot of melodic strength—what Johnson called the “fancy clothes” on top of a piece.
Johnson said she likes to switch between “Wow, I did not expect that girl to sing ‘Single Ladies’ right now,” and “Wow, that Steve Martin cover is really good,” which led into her next set of pieces, starting with a tune of her own called “Busted Blues,” and then the promised “Single Ladies.”
Her cover of Beyonce’s work was lent a bittersweet and yet heartfelt tone by Johnson’s harmonious guitar, and her breathy voice on the final chorus.
Following this, Johnson performed a cover of Ray Charles’s “George In My Mind,” in honor of her grandmother’s birthday, and then gave a performance of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.”
Johnson wrapped up her set with two of her own songs, “Just 2 Say,” in which her nearly ethereal vocals clearly evoked the tropical feeling of the Hawaiian music she credited as her inspiration, and an untitled piece Johnson is working on for her next album. It’s a love song, she said, written to her significant other: “I didn’t win ‘The Voice,’ I don’t have the money to buy you a Cadillac, but here’s a song, isn’t it pretty.”
The piece, more lyric-focused than her others, perfectly showed off her casual but catchy style.
After Johnson “jetted out” to her grandmother’s birthday party, the Portland Cello Project took the stage, and promised to “continue this evening’s tradition of genre-busting fun from all over the world, starting with a piece from a British composer named Adele.”
The Portland Cello Project’s set began with the aforementioned “Rolling In The Deep,” in which they upped the stakes halfway through with cello-drumming and rhythmic stomps, before slowing into the softer closing section.
This fed well into a Bach piece, and then an adaptation of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” which gave the percussionist some exciting things to do, as well as the vibrant Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal.”
Following this, the Project introduced their vocalist, Patti King, for a number of songs from The Beck Hansen Song Reader. As the Portland Cello Project phrased it, “Beck wrote out all the sheet music, and then handed it to the world and said, ‘Here, I’m not even going to record it; you do that.’”
This set started with Beck’s “Please Leave a Light On,” given a Peter Paul & Mary air thanks to King’s soft vocals. King then returned periodically to accompany the Portland Cello Projects for several songs including her own composition, “My Arrow,” and a Radiohead piece titled “Jigsaw Falling Into Place.” The name is apt; the Portland Cello Project’s version blended sharp-edged and rapid cello with smooth trumpet transitions.
Upon realizing that there was no backstage at the venue to escape to, the Portland Cello Project happily performed another of the Beck Hansen Song Reader pieces, “Last Night You Were a Dream,” as an encore.
What She Said has a Facebook page at facebook.com/whatshesaidups. Stephanie Anne Johnson’s music can be found on her website, sajmusic.com, and the works of the Portland Cello Project can be found on their website, portlandcelloproject.com.