Tristen displayed both a performance affect that belied her silliness and a sonic soundscape exquisitely painted for more intimate venues.
(Photo: Kristy Benjamin)
After the release of Charlatans at the Garden Gate in 2011, the Boston Globe heralded Tristen Gaspadarek (known simply as Tristen) as “Nashville’s best-kept secret.” Yet, on the heels of the release of her third studio record, Sneaker Waves, six years later, Tristen’s music may still very well be under wraps. At least, that is what the evidence of the less-than-stellar turnout for her concert at the Rockwell in Somerville, Massachusetts might suggest. Perhaps Bostonians no longer read the Globe. Or perhaps the glut of other concerts in the greater Boston area that night (an outdoor Allston set by local heroes the Novel Ideas and a double bill of Spoon and the New Pornographers, to name a few) proved to be stiff competition. But those in on the secret were treated to a special night.
Opener and Boston local, Hayley Thompson-King, revved up the evening with a bourbon-tinged set of honky-tonks. Channeling Loretta Lynn as well as the rougher edges of garage rock, Thompson-King and her tight backing outfit dished up a fiery set, pushing a traditional country sound into the red. In addition to enkindling the night, she ignited anticipation for her debut Psychotic Melancholia, which will be released in September.
Following Thompson-King’s fire, Tristen approached the evening more coolly. The band slowly worked up a slick ’60s- inspired groove before Gaspadarek wandered onto the stage, fashioning a Dolly Parton-meets-David Bowie aesthetic. What followed was a set of lush arrangements buoyed by the singer-songwriter’s dulcet drawl. The band leaned into “Got Some,” the opening song of Sneaker Waves and the first of many from the album played throughout the night. Gaspadarek matched her delicate voice with a demure pantomime of the song’s lyrics so she could “hang back here in the atmosphere.” But her coy demeanor seemed expertly crafted as a way to beckon her audience into a more intimate exchange without having to say a word.
The band flowed seamlessly into the brisk synth-pop stylings of “Partyin’ is Such Sweet Sorrow,” before sinking into the sedative “Alone Tonight,” which ended with a brooding repartee between Gaspadarek’s vocals and the deadening drones spilling out from Buddy Hughen’s guitar. With jazzy drums, in-the-pocket bass and soft harmonies, the backing band provided the perfect placid accompaniment to her vocals.
Ironically, she broke the ice of her cool aesthetic when she announced the song “Frozen,” cracking a joke about the Disney movie of the name with deadpan delivery. This moment of levity opened her up for a more candid goofiness throughout the set, such as when she threatened the audience with spankings and offered unlicensed therapeutic advice from her gut.
After frontloading her set with songs from Sneaker Waves, she reached back in her catalogue to her label debut, Charlatans at the Garden Gate, for a trio of songs—“Avalanche,” “Baby Drugs” and “Tadpole.” Of the three, “Baby Drugs” stood out the most as the band updated its pop bounce with the luminous layers of guitar and a swinging beat that more closely resembled something off of Sneaker Waves. “Tadpole,” however, failed to hit the mark, as the folksiness of the lyrics seemed a poor fit with a set populated with songs about vulnerability.
Tristen brought the set near its close with Caves’s “No One’s Gonna Know,” during which Gaspadarek rocked a tambourine as she belted from atop the front speaker. The band then embarked on a psyched-out version of “Heart and Hope to Die.” They stretched the song into the realm of Jefferson Airplane as Gaspadarek riffed on classic vocal lines such as “don’t you want somebody to love” and “I’m not gonna beg on my knees for you,” even as she thrashed at her guitar while kneeling on the stage.
Closing the set was a stripped down “Psychic Vampire,” an early ‘60s waltz of a song that satirizes the current social media age. With just her vocals and Hughen’s guitar, Gaspadarek invited the audience to participate in the chorus. Even with the sparse attendance, the crowd matched her word for word, filling out the Rockwell with a dreamy round.
Altogether, Tristen displayed both a performance affect that belied her silliness and a sonic soundscape exquisitely painted for more intimate venues. Both were executed nearly flawlessly, making it difficult for those in attendance to remain tight-lipped about “Nashville’s best-kept secret” any longer.