Posted by: hankwillenbrink | November 9, 2008

REVIEW: Jolie Holland with Herman Dune @ 930 Listening Room, Saturday 11/9


“It feels like I should be preaching up here,” Jolie Holland admitted, standing atop the hardwood floor at the 930 Listening Room on Saturday (a space that doubles as Sojourner Community Church).  Her set with opening act and uber-facial haired men Herman Dune was hardly preachy, but instead filled with angst, sweetness, sentimentality, ghost stories, and more than a little footwork.

First for the Dunes.  I got a hold of their track “Suburbs with You” on a mix my friend Tony made me last year.  Dune’s music is the kind of stuff that you don’t hear in the States (they’re from Sweden and France).  It’s rooted in folk and the resulting anti-folk traditions but is brazenly sentimental and bruisingly forthright.  It’s hard to think of an act in the States that could play these songs without touching on irony.  “Try to Think About Me” is one example: “and if you find yourself in Alaska / curled up by a big bear / and if you feel like there is a big paw going through your hair / well i hope you hear a song/going through your ear.”  The delivery was without pretension, without malice, without a wink and a nudge, and without the tortured whine that so many US songsters would give it.  Dune’s set flew by (both guys are named Herman Dune by the way or with their given names, their last names are “Herman Dune”).  With a simple set up (guitar and drums) they weren’t wanting for anything in terms of sound and the simplicity made the music sound even brighter, buoyant, and ecstatic.  Now, I don’t mean ecstatic in the way that Cory describes Girl Talk.  I’m talking about jubilation, energy, and verve, devoid of pretension and beautifully pure.

Jolie Holland admitted during the show that she reads (at least some) of her reviews and recalled (with devistating detail to those of us who sit in silent reviewership critique) a few of the reviews.  So Jolie, if you’re reading feel free to read further, but if you quote part of this at another show, I want a signed LP or something…

Anyway.  A few years ago, I bought my Dad (who’s a big bluegrass fan) a copy of The Be Good Tanyas (Jolie’s previous band) debut LP.  After spinning the beginning of “The Littlest Birds,” my Dad dismissed the record as “too jazzy” for his taste and I stole it back and have been listening to everything that Holland has done ever since.  But, to hear Holland recorded is one thing.  And to hear her live is a different experience.  The 930, with its comfy chairs, sleek walls, and quiet audience, was obviously a little different than the places Holland and company have been playing.  But, our silence counterpointed many of the intricacies and nuances in the band’s sound and Holland’s voice, which is an instrument unlike any other.  The set plugged through a lot of the new album, some Be Good Tanyas tracks,  and some from Holland’s first solo LP including a eerie version of “Old Fashioned Morphine” and an aborted version of “Damn Shame” (one of my favorite tracks).  The band was a tight outfit working off one another even during a possibly disasterous moment when Holland’s guitar strap came undone.  But, with cool professionalism, they fixed the strap without missing a strum.

Evidently, one reviewer commented that Holland’s new tracks are “breakup songs”:  a phrase she disputed and with good reason.  The new album sounds more like ghost stories (which Holland collects) than relationship enders.  And, this was never more present than in the show.  If you’ve never heard Holland sing, then bully for you for making it thru this review so far, and you should know that it’s difficult to describe.  But not in the way that trying to describe why you slept with that person when you shouldn’t have is difficult.  Difficult in the way that trying to describe color to a blind person is difficult.  Difficult in the way that trying to tell your parents that you love them is difficult.  Difficult in the way that you can’t fix a tire without a tire iron is difficult.  With the exception of Tom Waits, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a voice so amazingly authentic as Holland’s.  She manages to compact nostalgia, heartbreak, and even a punkish anger into every note.  In the final two songs, a track that didn’t make it onto the latest record and a cover of Dylan’s “To Ramona,” Jolie took the stage herself.  Without the band, she didn’t feel the need to make up for a loss of sound and we were treated with the sonorous beauty of an elegant couple of songs that showcased her ability to vocalize beauty and frustration in one fell swoop.

There are advantages to playing in a space of silence where the audience is hanging on every note, syllable, and measure.  Saturday night was one of those times.  We got to listen and hear the grizzled reality and sentiments that go with ghosts and loved ones.  We got to experience the way stories sound when the come off the mp3 or turntable and come to life.  We didn’t have to deal with the chatter, just the way that great storytellers craft something out of them and tell it back to us in a way that sounds beautiful, disturbing, and like we heard it for the first time.

I wish my Dad could have been there.  Because he wouldn’t have been able to dismiss things so easily.  They were happening right there in front of us.  With a sound that no one could deny.

Herman Dune – Try to Think About Me

Jolie Holland – Mexico City

***Pics and after the Break***



  1. Dear Hank A
    what a bunch of super sweet feedback. I’m really flattered. Thank you so much. Those photos are great too! It documents a great tour for me. That is a wonderful band, and what with the ephemeral world, none of those things will ever happen the same way again. Might not get a chance to tour the states with HD again. I love the photo where Sean Flinn and I are back to back.
    Very best regards
    Take care

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