Gushing a tender intimacy that’s become so synonymous with her music, singer/songwriter Steady Holiday played a solo(ish) show at Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater in Highland Park this past Saturday night. With a portion of the proceeds going to support Field Trips For LA Youth. It was a night filled with Dre Babinski’s soul-lifting and heart-wrenching ditties and that of the Irish quartet Bonehenge (an unofficial name coined for the night) led by percussionist James Yoshizawa.
And of course, the marionette denizens of the theater were also present: a charming cast of characters, animals, and critters that lent the already touching evening a certain magical poignancy. Waltzing, crawling, and at times even flying from the wings of the red curtains that framed the “stage” of the theater to delight and even act out little routines for each song.
Steady Holiday used the evening to preview stripped down versions of the songs that will appear on her new album Newfound Oxygen, at one point calling on fellow musician John MF Anderson (whom she recorded the album with) to play with her. But for the most part it was just Babinski and her puppet companions. And the more adorable they became (from dogs and a family of geese to a teeny caterpillar) the harder it clearly was for her to ignore them.
But somehow she managed — with Babinski giving the small but packed group of people a performance unlike any other. Her recent lead single “Can’t Find A Way” received a fluttering debut alongside “The Balance,” a yet unreleased but vital piece of Newfound Oxygen. Referring to it as the album’s thesis (and printing its lyrics onto the program for the night), it wasn’t hard to glean the song’s importance to Babinski. Filled with her ardently poetic lyricism the song tracks a common thread in Steady Holiday’s music: trying to survive life’s highs and lows (ideally not alone).
But Steady Holiday also peppered the night with songs from across her previous three albums, including the title track of her second Nobody’s Watching and the lush dirge “Mothers” (a song made all the more dramatic by the trio of geese that came out in raincoats). Whether she was lulling away on a sleepy ballad like “Love Me When I Go To Sleep” or digging into the riveting violin medley that tumbles from “Tangerine,” Babinski wields such a disarming emotional power. She’s impossibly spellbinding, aspiringly empathetic, and sagely articulate in deciphering all the wonderuous complications of life.
James Yoshizawa — the current holder of the #1 spot amongst Irish Bones players — opened the night with a stunning performance that centered around his use of the folk instrument. As their set progressed, Yoshizawa invited more and more of his band members onstage, including fiddler Lily Honiberg, guitarist Scott Johnson, and singer Hannah Crowley.
Together they roused the crowd into hand-clapping, foot-stomping sing-alongs to traditional Irish folk songs like “The Fields of Athenry” and “The Black Velvet Band.” It was the kind of performance that shatters anyone’s preconceptions about the limitations of folk music in the modern era, especially its ability to light a fire within a crowd when performed by such incredibly passionate artists and musicians. By the end of “Rattlin’ Bog,” as Crowley was speeding through the wild crescendos of tempo that make-up the song, every voice in the crowd was howling along to the chorus. For a moment the Bob Baker theater was home to the sounds of a true Irish jig and it was gloroious.
Words and photos by Steven Ward