Amoree Lovell
Sat March 10, 8 pm
Groundswell Cafe
1800 NE Alberta

Theatrics are far too rare in music these days. Not over-the-top rock theatrics, or densely choreographed, Britney-scale Musical Productions for Stadiums and Arenas--there are actually too many of those. But the kind of subtle drama that's found in well-written murder mysteries or dark and choppy silent films--really, far too rare.

Amoree Lovell, a local pianist/vocalist, smokes a cigarette while she plays her shadowy ragtime cabaret. She stays on the low end of the keyboard a good amount of the time, her hands skulking across the notes. Often clothed in a long, black dress, her breathy voice can creep up on you like a vine or an opalescent phantom. The air around her seems to crumple quietly, and yes, subtly. It bows to her. You want to be watching her play in grainy black and white, like an early film queen--Theda Bara, maybe.

"I wish I were one of these cool types, but I'm not," says Lovell. "I'm a little drama queen, as much as I don't want to be." In actuality, however, much of the drama surrounding her performances works precisely because it's not premeditated.

"When I'm playing, I'm trying really hard to concentrate on what I am doing," she says. "It's that chase for perfection, I guess. I'm really just actively trying to think of the notes and the way it needs to be delivered and the pitches. When I'm playing, I'm not relaxed."

Lovell began playing piano by ear when she was three years old, but composition-wise, didn't really come into her own until a revelation, courtesy Rodney Dangerfield. "I remember very vividly one summer I was working on a Christmas song in this certain rhythm. I was going along in 4/4 time, with one measure of 2/4, and then back into 4/4. And I thought it sounded so neat, but no one on the radio was doing that. Taylor Dayne wasn't doing it; Bobby Brown wasn't doing it; Night Ranger wasn't doing it. And that summer, Rodney Dangerfield's Back to School was re-running on HBO and--do you remember the party scene in the movie? Oingo Boingo was playing in the background, and they were playing 'Dead Man's Party,' which goes along in 4/4, then 2/4, then 4/4. And it was just like angels came down from heaven and started singing to me," she says. "I am a huge Danny Elfman fan. He is the big influence," she says.

With a cutesy sinister cross-influence of gothic, new wave, and more traditional music like Kurt Wile (who wrote "Mack the Knife"), Lovell's music is unmistakably in the vein of Elfman. Despite her music's all-encompassing, quirkily dark ambiance, however, her range is wide, from creepy lullabies to glamorous ballads to covers of '80s club hits?

"[Peter Schilling's] 'Major Tom'* was something I'd always wanted to cover. I know it sounds really impressive, but it's nothing but scales and arpeggios. It's like using a wah-wah pedal to sound funky. It's a great song; so dramatic. Nobody writes great dramatic songs like that anymore," says Lovell.

As for the cigarette, Lovell says, "I think the cigarette adds intensity. It was never like, 'Oh, I'm going to smoke a cigarette and be dramatic.' It comes from smoking like a fiend. I was playing a show and something felt wrong. I put a cigarette in my mouth and thought, 'My god, that's what was missing the whole time!'"

*["Major Tom" is the song where the chorus goes "4, 3, 2, 1, Earth below us/ Drifting, falling/ Floating weightless," or something like that.]