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Concert Review: Susan Elizabeth – Alphabet Lounge, New York City, April 4, 2009

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Susan Elizabeth, formerly of Paige23, is finally back on the New York indie music scene, reconstituted as a solo-guitar-and-electronic-loop artist. It’s a sharp and pleasing shift from her often harder-rocking stance as the leader of Paige23, which released albums in 2002 and 2005 and then broke up. Elizabeth is out in the clubs and coffeehouses this year, previewing tracks from her forthcoming solo debut, Wine and Cigarettes. I checked her out at Alphabet Lounge on April 4. She looks like a blend of Pat Benatar and Joan Jett, plays with the clean strum of the Indigo Girls, and has a searing silken voice that is truly all her own.

Susan ElizabethShe opened with “Kissing,” possibly her strongest song yet to be revealed — which explains why you can hear it on both of her websites, even though it’s a leftover from the previous band. The pained thrill in the lyric “I will turn my head with eyes wide open / watch the two of you kissing” took me on an urgent roller-coaster through my own heartbreak scenes in cars, on sofas, around campfires. The quiet onstage presence of Steve L.A. Mura on second guitar heightened the mysterious joyride.

It was not until after this fantastic opener that I even noticed Susan hadn’t brought any electronic gear – just a keyboard, which was used sparingly. At first sight, I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to hear live renditions of her new forays into folk-electronica, but I quickly realized I was getting a rare opportunity to hear her music clear and clean. The spare arrangements opened up the songs, and the earnest lyrics stepped forward and grabbed me by the collar.

New songs, likely to appear on the new album, included “That Girl On MTV.” This is not a reference to Britney Spears, but a hilarious skewering of the crazy screaming chicks who throw stuff on the reality shows. Another new one “We Got Married,” is a dark foreshadowing of a doomed union. (By now, you’ve caught on that Susan Elizabeth is a legit singer-songwriter with a point of view and tales to tell. No “lonely on tour in a hotel room” numbers here.”) The other new number, a bright crowd-pleaser called “Closer Than This" (see video below, from a March performance), has not been revealed in a clean recording online yet—a tantalizing incentive to get that new album when it drops.

Susan Elizabeth performed a trio of songs by other artists, starting with Butch Walker’s “Mix Tape.” A fitting choice, since her entire set plays like her own mix tape of her favorites songs: old and new, original and covers. Her rendition of “The Remedy” by Jason Mraz was newly revealing, but her choice to play “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes was the one oddball decision of the evening. (In fairness, she may have just been trying to get the attention of a rowdy bunch of bar patrons who had just walked in.)

The thirty-minute, ten-song show was rounded out with four tunes from the defunct Paige43. There are many more new Susan Elizabeth songs that need to be put into the setlist: the uptempo “Till The Song Is Over” and “The Excitement Before” sound gig-ready on the web tracks; the loop-layered “Peace” and electro-funky “Figure It Out For Yourself” probably still await live arrangements. You can actually follow the progress of the new songs and album on her blog, where she is reporting in from the studio. It looks “Peace” and other tracks may show up on a simultaneous release, B-Sides and Seasides.

Susan Elizabeth’s bio, along with most of her lyrical content, reads much like that of Alanis Morissette – the broken relationship, the healing through Eastern spirituality, the new relationship that’s just as estranged as the old one. “Thank you India… thank you disillusionment,” as Alanis wrote. Paige’s version of the survival anthem might be found in the lyrics of “Kissing,” when she sings, “I am living proof that we keep on living.”

live at Alphabet Lounge
104 Ave. C, NYC
April 4, 2009

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