Madisonian Marla Hansen has made her way onto popular hipster music blogs like BrooklynVegan.com as a coveted accompanist to indie rock's newest loves (Sufjan Stevens, My Brightest Diamond) as well as hip-hop's main squeeze, Jay-Z. Hansen is notorious as a triple-V threat: violinist, violist, and vocalist. Usually, she plays a literal second fiddle but Marla Hansen put away the side act for her chance at center stage on Friday at Mother Fool's.
Hansen started off her peaceful folk show with an engaging novelty: strumming her viola, thus producing a tone similar to a less twangy, relaxed banjo. Her voice was crisp and melodic with a muffled, childlike touch resembling harmonious whisper, drawing comparisons to Joanna Newsom (without the whimsy) and Natalie Merchant (without the goat-like baying.) Disappointingly, her delivery was uninspired and many times her viola had the variety of a metronome-in a lineup she'd be just another coffee shop chick with those damn, dark-rimmed glasses.
Given her associations, this was frustrating to admit. How could this individual play with such innovative artists? Right as my skepticism began to set in, she returned from an intermission to sing backup and play her viola (traditionally, with bow) alongside Inlets member and fellow Madison native, Sebastian Kruger. Her silky accompaniment transformed his songs from mediocre to haunting. Ms. Hansen was finally relaxed and bordering on confident. But this version of Hansen disappeared as quickly as it arrived. What the hell?
"That's in tune, right?" she asked while attempting to tune her guitar for her "first ever" performance with her new instrument. Admitting to the audience that they just forked over money to watch an artist who has no idea what she's doing? Well, everyone needs to start somewhere, blah blah blah, plus her primary weapons are the violin and viola; I'll let it slide and give her props for trying something new.
But her originals ("A Friend Indeed," etc.) carry the same fatal flaw: an inability to connect with the maturity of the crowd. Though her voice embodies that sweet, cooing quality that has popularized chanteuses like Bebel Gilberto and Hope Sandoval (of Mazzy Star), her juvenile lyrics paired with simplistic melodies leave the listener wanting. I kept thinking that if I was still in high school, maybe I would "get it."
Hansen needs a bit more practice with her back to the band. For instance, the singular cover, U2's "One Tree Hill," was a unique choice and had its tender moments-her sweet voice made lofty lyrics heartbreaking and bittersweet. This, however, was overshadowed by an awkward delivery, as if she didn't really know how to play it. The "wow" factor is just not there, and if she ever wants a glimmer she needs to gain the confidence to do so. Some people are best as musicians and not performers. Friday night, this seemed to be the case for Hansen.