We attended all kinds of shows during our Rocktober coverage here at Chunky Glasses, from the smallest clubs in town to large venues such the Patriot Center. That’s one of the great things about the DC music scene – without looking too hard, you can find excellent tunes just about anywhere. So it was that we found ourselves at the 16th Street home of drummer Ben Tufts for a fantastic house concert with locals Laura Tsaggaris and Andy Zipf, and Northampton, Massachusetts’ Heather Maloney. Tufts’ cozy basement proved to be the perfect venue for an intimate show by three wonderful up-and-coming singer/songwriters. Each of these artists write beautiful melodies, but also possess astounding voices, and to hear them in such a small space was truly a gift.
Tsaggaris got the evening started with a magnificent acoustic set that perfectly illustrated why her rabid local following continues to grow. Owner of a lustrous, haunting voice and formidable guitar skills, Tsaggaris’ bluesy tales enraptured the small but enthusiastic crowd. Contemplative songs like “Hurricane” (which she wrote during the last big DC storm) evoked Bonnie Raitt but also modern chanteuses like Chantel McGregor and Imelda May.
Tsaggaris gave the crowd a taste of her new record, Everyman, which will be released early next year (a record release party is scheduled at the Hamilton on February 2). The new record was financed by a successful IndieGoGo campaign; for the right price, donors could enlist Tsaggaris to cover the song of their choice. One sly fan selected “Open Your Heart;” in the wrong hands a cover of the Madonna sugarpop piece could come off as ham-handed and gimmicky, but Tsaggaris’ quiet version was splendid.
Andy Zipf (pronounced “Ziff”) was up next. Originally from Indianapolis, Zipf has been in the DC area for more than 10 years and has been churning out one great Simon/Petty/Springsteen-influenced record after another, including his most recent record, 2011’s Jealous Hands.
Utilizing a drummer (and some audience participation) and playing an eclectic guitar, Zipf varied softer songs like “Caught in the Quiet” with more upbeat numbers, his honeyed falsetto voice tying them all together. It’s a rare treat to see an artist like Zipf – who has opened for acts like Cold War Kids and Badly Drawn Boy and has his music featured on the ABC show Private Practice – performing in a basement, and he proved he can light up any room where he performs.
The night ended with a breathtaking set by Heather Maloney. A thoroughly engaging performer, Maloney’s songs ran the gamut from quiet, contemplative numbers such as “Grace” (which began with an audience sing-along of “Amazing Grace”) to upbeat tunes like “Turn Yourself Around” and a stellar expanded version of the Beatles’ “Her Majesty.”
Maloney was backed with drums and bass, and her fellow musicians harmonized as well as they played. Bassist Ken Maiuri even did a fine trumpet imitation on the title track to Maloney’s outstanding 2011 album Time and Pocket Change. Maloney also played a number of songs from a new record that will be released early next year. If songs like the jumpy “Flutter” and the toe-tapping pop gem “Ms. Mary Mack” are any indication, the new record will more than equal the beauty of its predecessor. The comparisons to folkies like Joan Baez and modern, quirky songwriters like Regina Spektor are easy but also don’t do Maloney justice; she doesn’t sound like the “next” anyone as much as the first Heather Maloney, a breath of fresh air in a genre of music prone to periods of stagnation.
Ben Tufts, who lives in the 16th Street space he calls the “Band House,” has indicated there are more house concerts to come. He’ll have a hard time topping this fantastic triple bill, but on behalf of all DC music fans we strongly encourage him to try.