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Review Wed Apr 14 2010

Review: Ami Saraiya @ Simon's, 4/3

ami s at simon's.JPG

[This review and photos came to us from reader Rob Reid.]

As much as musicians and industry insiders bemoan the relative lack of venues in Chicago, from a listener's standpoint there has never a shortage of options on any given night of the week. With a musical radar cluttered by nightly shows at Schubas, the Empty Bottle, and the Hideout amongst many other noteworthy venues, sometimes the best performances slip by scarcely noticed. While anyone who's walked up Clark avenue just north of Foster has surely noticed the neon blue fish who's been holding the same neon yellow martini glass since Simon's Tavern first opened in the 1930s, a lesser known fact is that this spot also regularly features some of the city's best live music (typically on Sundays and Wednesdays) coordinated by the booking manager of the Green Mill.

On a recent Sunday night at Simon's, the tremolo of a lone violin initiated a graceful transition from a quiet night of drinking to a hypnotizing and haunting set from Ami Saraiya's current band. "The sky has no space for you," Ami sang, just before a brushed snare and upright bass groove launched "Vegas Moon," a tune with all the markings of a broadway jazz standard but with lyrics better suited for our time. The moon, Saraiya explained, gets forgotten behind all the bright Vegas lights.

That voice always seems to be the first thing everyone notices about Saraiya - and by the end of the first song she had handily out-dueled the liquor shelves for the rapt attention of everyone in the hushed bar. Though the press has never been able to concisely classify Saraiya's voice or her music, references to Billie Holiday abound. If her original "Sour Mash" recalled Holiday's adeptness at gracefully floating above the bar lines in her vocal phrasings, her cover of "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" all but confirmed it. And yet, the same voice that soothed and purred on some tunes growled in the rockabilly-esque "Memphis Train," and then captured a distinctly Eastern tendency to dance around fixed notes on "Familiar" and "Up, Down, and Charmed." This Eastern sensibility was all but confirmed on a cover of "Intaha Ho Gayee," a Bollywood standard.

ami s and anna soltys.JPG

Ami Saraiya and Anna Soltys (right) at Simon's

Was there another soul in the room who understood the meaning of "Intaha Ho Gayee Intezaar Ki/Aayi Na Kuchh Khabar Mere Yaar Ki?" "All these songs are about Jesus," Saraiya quipped earlier in the set (appropriately for Easter) - not a one was, of course. It might not have mattered, as the emotional dynamics of the music alone could have carried the six-piece band featuring textured arrangements of mandolin, violin, and xylophone along with Saraiya on guitar and accordion. But there's also a rare poetic depth to her songs. "You found me down deep in rubbled compartments/The bare bones of me/You act like you've finally struck gold/But you don't even know me, you don't" she sings in "Archaeologist," a song which she explained is about a scientist from the future (not Jesus) analyzing her remains and being the first person to truly understand and care about her.

After the close of her first set, which featured some unrecorded originals such as "Shaped Lockette" and the gorgeously dark waltz "Cattleprod Hands," the band took a short break and returned to the "stage" (in this case, the corner of the bar) with a stripped down cast featuring just the former members of Saraiya's previous band Radiant Darling — Marc Piane on upright bass and Ben Gray on percussion. As if trying to throw yet another curveball at any attempts of genre classification, the group played the riotous gypsy instrumental "Interlude" followed by "Don't Get Me Wrong" — the classic by The Pretenders rearranged in gypsy fashion with Saraiya on accordion. Closing out the night, Saraiya brought out guest performer Anna Soltys for a country tune with a yodeling duet, before appropriately ending the night with "Lullaby." CD Baby listed Ami on its list of 10 to Watch in 2010 for good reason — this is shaping up to be a great time to watch this unique band.

-Rob Reid

 
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Justyn / May 22, 2011 8:01 AM

This band has a cool original sound, but Ami is a blatantly mediocre Tori Amos wanna be. It kills it for me.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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