Jennifer O'Connor
Royal Oak Music Hall; Royal Oak, MI

Photo: Amy Bezunartea

Opening for Neko Case, especially as a female singer-songwriter of about the same age, can be nerve-wracking, but Jennifer O’Connor pulled if off with both grace and composure at the Royal Oak Music Hall on February 26.

Having just released her sixth album, which actually beats Case by one (solo) album if you don’t count live recordings, may have helped. O’Connor has extensive stage experience, too, and it shows in her easygoing demeanor and friendliness toward the audience. She seemed comfortable in a way that might almost trick you into thinking you know her personally, which made her a fitting companion for Case, who similarly tends to banter with her audience as though you’re just hanging out at the local bar gettin’ weird together.

O’Connor released the new album, called Surface Noise, this month on her own label Kiam Records. It’s a low-key recording overall, connected by a thread of consistently mellow, melodic vocals and acoustic guitar, and occasionally punctuated by what you might call alt rock “singles”; upbeat, guitar-driven-but-vocally fueled nuggets à la Liz Phair or maybe even Letters To Cleo. Despite being a singer-songwriter, this style of 90s-evocative pop(ish) rock song is where O’Connor shines, keeping her energy high while remaining lyrically and thematically ambiguous about whether or not that’s a sensible place to be, and managing, rather heroically, to inspire sonic déjà vu (for those of us old enough) without being overly derivative.

It was a good show.

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