Concert Reviews

Review: Kimya Dawson and Aesop Rock at Summit Music Hall, 8/21/11

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The power of the song hit unexpectedly because, especially in Kimya's vocal section, it tapped into universal truths of modern human experience and articulated it so well that you really felt like she was singing about you, your life, the lives of people you love and who have touched your life and been an important part of it -- substituting a few details. It was one of the high points of the show and one of the highest points of any show in recent years, regardless of musical style or genre. In fact, seeing this song live felt like it was the kind of song you've been waiting your whole life to hear but didn't know it.

Before the Dawson and Aesop Rock took the stage, Mike Deez played some interesting electro pop and hip-hop. Deez left the stage just as some of the most insipid pop hits of the '80s came on, which had everyone singing along to stuff like "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey and "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake.

But this was all quickly forgotten once Dawson took the stage with just her blue, acoustic guitar, Aesop Rock following her. The duo performed the first two songs together beginning with "Delicate Cycle" and immediately, it was striking how well the cadence and flow of each artist matched the other. It was uncanny how perfect it was; Aesop was hard-edged and smart and Kimya was also smart, and, more conventionally, musical. Both delivered lines that cut straight to the heart of the matter with a good combination of honesty and compassion.

When Aesop left the stage, Dawson told us that her next song sounded a lot like the last and that all of her songs sound a little bit alike because she's a folk singer. Maybe her songs do sound something alike, but when she started up "Singing Machine," her presence and delivery were absolutely riveting. Like the best of folk singers, Dawson has discovered her own voice as a lyricist, and in doing so, she has found a way to weave stories together with a meaning for those stories that go beyond the specific circumstances of her life. And when the elements aren't autobiographical, they are grounded in experiences everyone has had. Dawson is incredibly honest with herself and this gave each of her songs an emotional resonance that would have made the material incredibly compelling aside from Dawson's obvious charisma as a performer.

Dawson performed a handful of cuts from Thunder Thighs, as well as some from Alphabutt in the first half of her set and it was interesting to see how, after all these years, Dawson has not shed the endearing awkwardness that has made her such an interesting performer. She doesn't bother with a persona and lets her vulnerability and authenticity speak for itself, which lets you let your own guard down, allowing you to take in her unique poetry.

In this way, Dawson is able to be fearless while being completely open to the fear and the hurt that's part of life. Later in the show, Dawson talked about how it's part of life that things can kind of be unpleasant, but that it can also often incredible, amazing and healthy to admit and be open about acknowledging your worst times and that no one should have to be embarrassed about asking for help when they need it. The crowd clearly loved Dawson -- really, it would be hard to imagine a crowd that didn't -- and cheered wildly when she made statements like this throughout the show.

At one point, she related a story about one of the first times she came through Denver and played at the Breakdown Book Collective. Specifically, she remembered a seven-year-old girl who was there that would be now be seventeen. She probably has these stories about many cities, but in recounting such a story to a crowd in the hundreds and her ability to make it endearing to probably everyone is a gift. Before that story Dawson performed "Being Cool" and afterward, the seemingly Celtic-flavored "The Beer."

After Aesop Rock came back on stage to perform "Walk Like Thunder," he stayed to perform another of the duo's songs, but not the last of the night. Dawson closed her portion of the show with another track from her new album, in which she fully embraces being in her late thirties and expresses how glad she is to be alive, and in doing so, she reminded us that you need not be over the hill in music once you're out of your early thirties. Dawson proved herself not only to be more relevant than ever but also that she's reached a kind of another turning point, and an exciting one at that, in her career as a songwriter with this new batch of songs.

Click through to read about Aesop Rock's set.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.