IN TUNE: Jill Sobule employs the radical dynamic shift as well as, if not better than, any singer-songwriter, underscored by a living-room performance in Montclair that found her dropping songs to a near-whisper before lifting them to a mighty crescendo.
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Sobule is quick on her feet – funny as any stand-up comedienne working a crowd – but that’s the trap: She disarms you with a quip or funny lyric, then cuts to the quick, in a way that most songwriters, save Patty Griffin, can.
Someone among the 30-odd people at Chris Kunstadter’s house Sunday night called for her 1995 hit, “I Kissed a Girl.”
Sobule, without missing a beat, said: “Sure. The Katy Perry song.”
She made it her encore, then suddenly stopped mid-tune — wide-eyed, strumming the chords — as she described a flash of inspiration that had just come to her: What if she wrote a song about how she and anti-gay Christian reconstructionist Michele Bachmann had once been a couple?
Which led to a chorus of “I Kissed Michele.”
Sobule promised to have the new tune written before the primaries and in time for an early fall tour that could hit Joe’s Pub in Manhattan and possibly Outpost in the Burbs, also in Montclair.
Between cotton-candy pop and heavy-handed songwriters who take themselves way too seriously, there’s very little wiggle room. But Sobule is that kind of unique talent who understands what makes a “stickable” melody, as well as the raw emotion that squeezes your heart till it hurts. The trick: All the while, you’re tapping your foot or swaying your shoulders in time.
The beauty of her Montclair show was that Sobule didn’t use a setlist – “great for an ADD person,” she said.
Occasionally, she peeked at her iPad, which held the lyrics to many of her songs. For the most part, though, Sobule was free to do whatever she wanted – including a parody of “Ode to Billy Joe,” with the same melody, in which she asked, “Where Is Bobby Gentry?”
The Denver native poked fun at those who believe in The Rapture, called her Los Angeles hometown a “very apocalyptic place” where it mostly likely would happen, if it does, and told how she worked at the fun Manhattan eatery Lox Around the Clock for all of a week (“The midnight shift, with all the coked-out people coming from the Limelight”), before taking a job at Barney’s, where she befriended another woman named Jill.
Both tried to see who could come up with the best excuse for calling in sick, Sobule said. The topper was when “Tall Jill” once claimed to have glass in her stool: “I’ve used it two times since then. Both times it worked.”
Sobule also talked of how Margaret Cho introduced her to a “creative procrastinatrix,” who, she said, once left a simple voicemail: “I want you to have a song done by Thursday.”
Would be a great business, Sobule told the hysterical crowd.
The result, “San Francisco,” about an Asian masseuse in what basically is indentured servitude who can only dream about things she’d love to do, builds to a majestic, soaring denouement, before landing softly.
Check out the ultra-cool video of the song, “San Francisco,” directed by Cho:
Sobule also teased believers in deities, as well as those who condemn particular lifestyles — such as those who say gays are condemned to a hellish place that Sobule thinks probably doesn’t exist.
“The Rapture,” as always, turned into a sing-along:
“What if I’d been a really nice gal, followed the Golden Rule — but now, because I don’t believe in your best pal, you say that I’ll burn forever? / But let’s say he’s real, but not like you sell. He’s more like a nice hippie in God’s spell – and that would bum me out…. / Do you think that He’s that small, to care about your candidate, your football team or who you mate? / No, God is great.
“You were busy getting ready for the rapture (Everyone!), for the rapture, for the rapture … You were busy getting ready for the rapture, warning us all.”
It was all a set-up, though, a way of loosening inhibitions, so that Sobule could slide in the thin blade of some of the most touching, melancholy songs any of us have heard.
After some more playful tunes, including the delicate waltz, “Strawberry Gloss,” Sobule recalled how she and John Doe each selected a cover song for an album they did together, “Jill ‘n John.”
(Some great videos here: John Doe & Jill Sobule )
While Doe did Alex Chilton’s “I’m in Love With a Girl,” Jill chose a song she said she originally learned to play at a friend’s wedding, one she at first thought was “so corny” before eventually dubbing it “the best song ever.”
She then played a shimmering version of one of the most exquisite love ballads ever, the 1967 hit by The Association, “Never My Love.” As everyone did on more than a few songs, the cozy crowd sang along — “ bop-bop-bop-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah ” — urged on by the songstress.
After a “halftime” for noshing and mingling, Sobule returned for a killer close. She played some of her saddest songs of the night – capped by the gorgeously hearbreaking “Now That I Don’t Have You,” which called to mind more than a few Kasey Chambers ballads.
Have a listen:
Sobule said the living room show was a nice break from the club circuit.
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