When the Tea Bazaar hosts a show on the weekend, social tension permeates the already thick, aroma-soaked atmosphere. The mix of boisterous UVA and high school students who usually come to smoke hookah clashes with the live music seekers, who hover near the bar looking for a spot where they can take in the evening’s sounds. The din of the room can overwhelm or taint the experience of a softer musical act, while a high-decibel band can make the hookah crowd vanish as quickly as the smoke that they’ve just exhaled.
Luckily, Paleface, who took the stage a little after 9pm on Saturday night, struck a balance between those two extremes. Joined by Monica “Mo” Samalot on drums and backing vocals, Paleface nonchalantly plucked his guitar’s strings and bent bluesy notes out of his harmonica before ascending to tunes with a heavier Appalachian stomp.
Paleface kicked off Saturday night energetic acoustic songs and gripping harmonies.
Though most people were likely oblivious to Paleface’s storied background (songwriting pupil of Daniel Johnston, roommates with Beck, signed and dropped by two major labels, friends with Juno songstress Kimya Dawson—and that’s only a small taste of the tale), his gravelly-yet-catchy voice and straightforward-yet-insightful lyrics grabbed the attention of the crowd. “Brooklyn Girl,” a tale of city love and hard-won wisdom, and “Dancin’ Daze,” a rousing, carpe diem-pondering number, shone brightest. “We like to be loud and raw,” he said in the middle of his set. “Hope you don’t mind.” And, since any raucous elements were coupled with good hooks, harmonies and Paleface’s boyish grin, the crowd didn’t.
Three more solid bands followed, but it was hard to shake the effect of Paleface’s early evening contribution. Richmond’s David Shultz and the Skyline opened with a spirited cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” before delving into their own set of tight, Dylan-tinged country tunes. Local duo Birdlips mixed new songs in with those from their debut album, Cardboard Wings, and their closer, the intricately laced “Track On Repeat,” showed that they definitely have more impressive stuff in the works.
As hookahs were extinguished and teapots got cold, Ilad, also of Richmond, concluded the evening in an appropriate manner, playing a mesmerizing, rhythmic lullaby that included balafon (a West African xylophone-like instrument), didgeridoo, flute, a Casio keyboard and assorted percussion instruments. Despite the four-band bill, the show ended on time, and, as the Tea Bazaar employees asked everyone to go home, bodies filtered out onto the Downtown Mall and the night drifted to a pleasing (though cold) end.