Live Shots: Anika and Peanut Butter Wolf at the Independent

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“Sound check,” some dude yelled after the first song on Wednesday night. His voice was particularly loud, because at the Independent, there wasn’t much of a crowd. As if to clarify to his friends that he wasn’t just an obnoxious dick, he added, “Seriously, though.” Anika looked at him with a slightly amused glare. It was the largest reaction anyone would get out of the singer that night.

Were there sound issues? Well, Anika’s vocals weren’t exactly clear, but that was consistent with the sound of her debut record. Produced by Portishead’s Jeff Barrow and released in the the US on Stones Throw, the self-titled Anika album has an underwater, hollowed tone to it, as the singer runs through covers and a few original compositions. The Stones Throw label, which take pride in releasing material that’s as fun as it is challenging, called it an “experience in uneasy listening.” Which seems to be going a bit far: on the original ‘No One’s There,’ Anika’s seductively flat Nico voice combines with a dub beat and some snappy breaks in the chorus for a perfectly catchy effect. When they played it live, it got immediate recognition from the part of the crowd that came to hear it.

If anyone came to connect with the performer, however, they were most likely disappointed. A few times it looked like she was going to say something, before catching herself and pulling back. The occasional stretch of silence hung between songs, punctuated by what seemed to be the same person yelling, “You’re so sexy!” which didn’t seem to ease the tension between the singer and the audience.* Maybe the shyness is a calculated image, but mostly Anika just seemed awkward and not comfortable with being in front of a (small) audience. Which makes sense, given that the singer reportedly met Barrow while working as a political journalist in Berlin last year. It’s been a short road to where she is now.

Even seasoned artists had a hard time Wednesday night. The Starving Weirdos and Jel got sacrificed as openers, essentially just laying down material before a politely unenergetic crowd. Peanut Butter Wolf, the founder of Stones Throw, was a late addition to the lineup, perhaps to try and boost sales. (If there is crossover between Anika fans and Barrow’s, it wasn’t evident. Portishead plays a sold out show at the Greek Friday.) As a DJ, PBW can definitely get things going – his 45 party with Dam Funk at Public Works last spring was fantastic -- but at best I can say it was a subdued performance. “I’d tell you to come up to the front of the stage,” PBW said before starting, “but you’d have to pull your chairs up,” referring to the cocktail tables the venue put in the back to make the place seem less empty. His VJ set, full of oddball clips of mostly quirky rock and roll, should have been a bonus, but the seated aspect made it sedate.

Anika’s voice has a lot of familiar character. Her covers of “Love Buzz” and “In the City” midway through had flattering Grace Slick elements to them. But closing the show with Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” made clear that she still has a ways to go as a performer. Maybe reading the lyrics out of a notebook is in keeping with the zeitgeist of studio recording – wherein Barrow reportedly told the singer to not rehearse – but there’s a difference between getting a live quality on record, and actually being live.

Peanut Butter Wolf partial VJ Set List
Public Image Limited -- Bad Life
Kenneth Anger/Mick Jagger -- Invocation of Demon Brother
Sparks -- Beat the Clock
Josef K -- Sorry for Laughing
New Order -- Blue Monday
Jimi Hendrix -- Hear My Train A Comin’
The Cure - 10:15 Saturday Night

Anika Set List
1 - Terry (Twinkle cover)
2 - End of the World (Skeeter Davis cover)
3 - No One’s There
4 - He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss) (The Crystals cover)
5 - Yang Yang (Yoko Ono cover)
6 - I Go To Sleep (Ray Davies cover)
7 - Masters of War?
8 - Love Buzz (Shocking Blue cover)
9 - In the City (Chromatics cover)
10 - Officer Officer
11 - Sadness Hides the Sun (Greta Ann cover)
12 - Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads cover)

*If it’s creepy/inappropriate to yell something at a woman walking down the street, her standing on a stage probably doesn’t make it better for anyone.

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