[19 November 2009]
Everything about singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield is both incredibly practiced yet incredibly sincere—a binary that becomes only more compelling in consideration of her 1989 birthday. The maturity of it all would indicate a serious age discrepancy, yet here she is at 19, kicking ass on multiple best-of lists and touring the country well outside her home base of Kent, Ohio. Taken under the wing of fellow Ohio native Dan Auerbach for this current tour (and in the studio for her 2008 full-length With Blasphemy So Heartfelt), she creates stunning folk-rock with lyrics that carry a distinct pent-up weightiness to them.
With each grainy, dramatic note, Mayfield’s voice trails off to some distant place that is very much in her head, yet it all feels so honest that we just might have traveled there with her. Actively suspended in her own ambivalence about romance, Mayfield’s repertoire resonates with a chilling indifference that was very much enhanced by the live atmosphere (and all that splendid reverb.) Passive and perfunctory quips like “you can touch me if you want, I don’t really care” and “kiss me like you love me I’ll pretend we’ve never lied,” make her come off as jaded but never thorny.
Despite excessive fog machine usage, her guitarist’s awkward showmanship, and the Webster Hall beer guy gracelessly shuffling through the crowd with a bucket-o-Heineken, Mayfield’s performance was nearly flawless. The antics of the guitarist were off-putting, particularly his obnoxious rock n’ roll seizure during “I Can’t Lie to You, Love.” With a beautifully moody guitar solo after the bridge, the song is striking on its own accord—a standout track on Blasphemy—without the thrashing and stumbling.
Mayfield ended the show brilliantly, with a wide-eyed rendition of “For Today.” As she sang the line “while these words may sound so sweet, I could care less about you,” I could have sworn it was with a smirk. Whether the words were directed towards the audience or to the mysterious subject of all her songs was irrelevant. Always keeping romantic idealism in check, it was an apt reassertion of her deliberate numbness and her enthralling, tumultuous accounts on love.