Review: The Blow and Anna Oxygen at The Chapel

The Blow‘s “Unplugged” tour, featuring Melissa Dyne (synthesizer) and Khaela Maricich (vocals, keyboard) on stage with live instruments for the first time,* made a stop at the San Francisco mortuary-turned-concert-venue The Chapel last night.

Anna Oxygen“This is a song from the moon’s perspective,” psychedelic folk artist Anna Oxygen announced as she opened the show with an animated rendering of songs that combined electronic instrumentals, operatic vocals, and mystical lyrics. Her voice’s tenor sounds like Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes, while her naturalistic, fantastical imagery brings to mind Joanna Newsom’s lyrics.

A full moon shed light over the Mission outside The Chapel as the singer, songwriter and actress gestured and danced the motions of the moon’s monthly routine.

In keeping with the pagan theme set by the opening song, which employs a clever pun by describing the moon as “revolutionary,” she also sang about a witch who gazes upon the earth from behind a wall of fog, appropriate in the San Francisco climate.

Throughout her set, Anna Oxygen kept the audience intrigued by singing over amplified echoes of her previous lines, shaking a beaded instrument above her head, and prefacing her songs with lines like “Imagine one quick thing, which is that I’m wearing psychic armor … and maybe I’m holding a pendulum.” She introduced The Blow as “mystical wizardresses.”

Maricich and Dyne entered the stage quietly and positioned themselves across from each other. Maricich sung with a subdued demeanor, her gaze directed toward her keyboard or Dyne for the majority of the set.

The audience chuckled during “Gravity (Pauline’s Response to Amy),” a song speculating about a former lover’s whereabouts, as Maricich sang “From behind, can you feel those hands? They’re not mine.” The energy picked up as the duo played “True Affection,” a fun, minimalistic, synthesizer-dominated reflection on a failed relationship, keeping listeners on their toes by deviating from the tune of the recorded version every so often and drawing out the bridge in slow motion.

The BlowThe piece I found most intriguing, which is nowhere to be found online, contained mostly spoken word by Maricich with the refrain “She’ll be the woman you want her to be” followed by a high, chant-like “Ooooh-oowoooo.” The woman characterized in the song embodies the feminine ideal of catering to another’s desires without demanding consideration for her own: She knows exactly what her partner wants, doesn’t ask for anything, and is “everything” and “nothing” all at once.

Many of The Blow’s songs deal with issues of gender and sexuality, perhaps related to the members’ lesbian identity. What makes this band most notable in my eyes is the critique of patriarchy and heteronormativity weaved into its music. For example, “Pile of Gold” from the 2006 album Paper Television draws attention to the economic model of sex as a service traded for preferential treatment:

All the girls are sitting on a pile of gold
All the girls—
And the boys you know they want—they want it
It’s economic

Hey Boy” from 2004’s Poor Aim: Love Songs paints a regretful picture of a girl consumed by a love interest who won’t call her back; “Like Girls” from the 2013 self-titled album contains the powerful feminine image of flashing a “powderpink handgun;” and “What Tom said about girls” from 2003’s The Concussive Caress depicts a character too many women are familiar with:

I’ve seen a hole and I aim to fill it
If that hole’s got a heart I’ve got the means to thrill it…
Cause you looked like a beacon of light
Just beaming in the night, I feel safe
So I’m like “Hey Baby!”

Maricich also explores feminist and queer politics on her blog and started the website Woman Producer to document women in music production.

Being a feminist seeking music that suits her political sensibilities can feel like being a vegan at a southern barbecue restaurant. That’s why I’m grateful for artists like The Blow and Anna Oxygen that satiate my craving for tunes I want to dance to combined with lyrics I can get behind.

*In the indie pop duo’s past performances, Maricich performed on-stage while Dyne produced the music from across the room.