I WAS THERE . . . Emiliana Torrini @ Highline Ballroom, 8/14/09

Arriving at the intimate, yet spacious Highline Ballroom, the opener was already playing, though I was afraid I’d arrived too late to catch her.

Anya Marina, a singer songwriter from Southern California was just a treat with her on-point acoustic performance, hilarious onstage banter, and sultry throated voice that mesmerized the crowd. Revealing her family background to be Russian as she related a story, I could begin to hear the lilting musical tradition of that culture influencing her boisterously robust vocals. The treat of the set was when she played an acoustic cover of T.I.’s “Whatever you Like” which just blew the crowd away with it’s irreverent appropriateness.

The Highline itself was set up much differently than when I’d previously been there (for one of The Root’s Presents shows), with tables filling the majority of the ground floor where dinners lounged as the performers came on. The back was standing room only and filled with a crowd that held a majority of couples.

Between sets, a petite woman heavily made up in the rockabilly fashion that’s so popular in L.A. came out on stage with what looked to be a banjo case. Laying it down, she proceeded to remove a trio of swords, one longer than the next and wowed the crowd by swallowing the blades one after the other. It was an odd rockabilly meets sideshow vibe that seemed to work very well.

Finally, Emiliana Torrini took the stage, backed by a four-piece band and a veritable mountain of instruments. As the short Icelandic singer’s breathy voice crooned through more than an hour and a half of music the two guitarists flanking her must have gone through at least seven or eight instruments between the two of them. Specially tuned guitars (acoustic and electric), a bass, a steel pedal guitar, and a tiny organ melded with drums and keyboard.

Drawing the set list from the half dozen albums she’s put out in the last 15 years; her clear voice, quirky/cute on stage presence, and Janis Joplinesque swaying all combined with great soft rock to make Emiliana’s set very enjoyable.

Kenneth Joachim

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