Music Review: Sarah Jaffe performs at DC9

Sarah Jaffe. (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Sarah Jaffe. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

WASHINGTON, November 26, 2014 – When Sarah Jaffe was up on stage recently at DC9, she cut quite imposing figure. That was due to a combination of things.

The stage at DC9 isn’t a massive affair, but it’s enough to cause a difference with Sarah Jaffe. Her appearance simply adds to the distance between her and the audience. Her high heels enable her to look out over everyone in the audience as she stands there with her slicked-back blonde hair. Added to her imperially slender frame, this helps her give off an intimidating vibe.

Sarah Jaffe’s intimidating stage presence isn’t a bad thing, though. It’s really just a look, just an impression she leaves. But it does influence her live show. For her entire set, she affected that cool and occasionally distracting distancing act. Yet it so often conflicted with her sound—especially her vocals—that it encouraged an oddly detached appeal which, ironically, drew the audience in in spite of it.

Taking a step back, there’s an argument to be made that a show should focus primarily on the music. Yet that ignores the actual presence of a band or a singer on a given night. Live shows are just as much a visual experience as they are a musical one. Sometimes these visuals succeed in playing up to audience expectations. But on the flipside, if incorrectly calibrated to a band’s distinctive sound, discordant visuals can just as easily sink a set of songs performed live in a popular venue.

Sarah Jaffe – like most performers who frequent venues the size of DC9 – doesn’t necessarily focus on her personal look and feel. Yet it’s important to her visual imagery because it does underscore the sound she’s putting out. When she’s up on stage, she crafts a cool and generally unflinching demeanor. This is in turn reflected in her songs, not necessarily in content but in tone.

As we’ve already hinted, “cool” is the easiest way to describe Sarah Jaffe’s live performance. But then this is consistent with how her take on indie pop/rock has evolved over the years, culminating with her latest album, “Don’t Disconnect,” which was the primary focus of her show at DC9.

Her output is a calm and subtle style of indie pop with deft touches of electro-pop and folk mixed into a cohesive whole. She blends these various forms of indie pop into a consistent tone and pace, never rushing things when they’re underway.

True, the attitude she puts out during her set comes off as slightly disaffected But as it happens, this ingredient seems to be making Sarah Jaffe only more inviting to the audience.

Sarah Jaffe is not putting on a performance for the audience as much as she’s staying true to her sound and to her songs. Her performance here embodied the competing aspects of her sound and lyrics without ever causing them to conflict with one another.

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