Duncan Sheik and Vienna Teng at Warehouse Live

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Went to see Duncan Sheik tonight at Warehouse Live. It’s the first time the singer/songwriter has been here since 2001 and the first time I’d seen him in person. According to some friens who were there, he originally attempted to book the show at the Mucky Duck, but the club didn’t want to charge more than $6 per person on a Sunday night. Weird.

Just a quick observation about venues in general before I get into the show. Warehouse Live is a nice place. It reminds me of a combination of the old Satellite Lounge and a place like the Engine Room. It’s a Clear Channel venue like the Engine Room and Meridian, which would explain why they’ll only open for name artists and rarely feature a local show.

It’s so odd to me that clubs can’t draw crowds any longer. We easily had more people at our CD release party than Sheik had tonight. Of course, we probably did more promotion.

Anyway, I had not heard of Teng before I got my tickets. A piano singer songwriter in the vein of Tori Amos with a strong classical bent, Teng was quite entertaining supported only by a cellist and violinist accompanying her piano and voice. Musically, she reminded me of a combination of classical music, particularly baroque and the music of eastern Europe, and pop singer/songwriters like Amos, Billy Joel and Suzanne Vega.

Vocally was where she really impressed. Her voice lingered softly and lilted gently over the synchopated and, at times, dramatic piano-driven arrangements. It was an impressive performance overall and she has the mix of pop sensibility, musical diversity and folk chops to give her a shot at real success. It doesn’t hurt that she’s also purty. 🙂

After a set of about an hour for Teng and a short break, Sheik and his band came out with little fanfare. They proceeded almost immediately into music after a joke about how long it had been since Sheik had been to Houston. The band sailed easily through songs from his new CD, White Limousine, and his last disc, Daylight.

The level of musicianship was very high. Guitarist Gerry Leonard demonstrated his unique blend of sonic textures throughout the set and was, at least for me, a real highlight.

Sheik’s voice had greater range than I expected, frankly. Even he has joked that he isn’t exactly a great singer, often opting for nearly whispering out pop melodies in registers not auidble in a loud, live rock setting. Not the case here as the mix was excellent, although the low end was a bit muddy and I didn’t really hear the bassist at all. No matter as what was important for this particular setting – vocals and textured guitar – were up front where they belonged.

Sheik and his bandmates moved effortlessly through his hour and fourty minute set of current and past songs. There was a certain non chalance to his performance that was very reminicent of his singer songwriter roots. In fact, it seemed very out of place in Warehouse Live. The club literally set out plastic folding chairs and the audience of around 150 (actually more like 100 for Sheik as Teng had a sizable audience that came just for her) was caught between the racuous energy of a live rock club and the sit-down politeness of a folk venue.

In retrospect, Mucky Duck would probably have been a better venue given the style of the show. It looked and felt more like a high school assembly than a rock concert.

Sheik’s encore included a half-acoustic-half-electric version of his one major hit, Barely Breathing, that felt spot on within the set of indie-ish, folksy pop rock songs.

I must admit that my only disappointment was the omission of songs from my favorite Sheik CD, Humming. He did not perform a single cut from that disc and that was unfortunate. I would’ve thought an excuse would be the inability to reproduce the complicated string ensemble arrangements, but he used backing tracks on a number of songs and included the string section that performed with Teng, so there wasn’t really any reason not to do that material.

He covered a lot of material from both White Limousine and Daylight and only pulled out the two singles from his first CD, She Runs Away and the aforementioned Barely Breathing.

Overall, a good show and well worth the relatively minimal cost. While not as entertaining as a typical rock concert, Sheik was professional and the songs were stretched just enough to make them interesting. And Teng cast such an interestingly wide musical net, she was almost impossible not to like.

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