Kimya Dawson keeps it confessional, relatable at the Rickshaw Stop

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Kimya Dawson bares her soul with a hand-scrawled guitar.
PHOTO BY JESSICA TRIMMER

The recurring theme of Sunday night’s Kimya Dawson show at the Rickshaw Stop was: be who you are and plainly say whatever you have to say. It began with Dave End— whose eccentric set included a cover of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” in a dress made of flowers — followed by Clyde Pattersen, from Your Heart Breaks, who flat out told the audience that one song was about his schizophrenic mother. It all culminated with Kimya Dawson. Some would have disparaged the night’s roster of confessional, fun-loving songwriters — it’s the prey of critics. But the night was about relating to people and — dare I say it? — Having fun.

In the case of the ex-Moldy Peach (Dawson), she’s where she is now not because of the critics, but because young people have long been able to relate to her honest songwriting. More than perhaps most other songwriters playing today, Dawson seems to write with her audience in mind. She wants to improve fans' self-esteem and make them feel better about themselves: a fact that makes the skeptics wince.

However, watching Dawson summon what must be pages and pages worth of risible lyrics on stage from memory could easily turn the heads of any one of those skeptics. With an acoustic guitar scrawled with doodles and an octopus necklace around her neck, Dawson faithfully performed songs that spanned her solo career with an emphasis on her new album, Thunder Thighs, and the one prior, Remember That I Love You. She also played a few songs off her children’s album, Alphabutt. Not many stood out in the set besides those where the audience, seated on the hard cement floors, joined in. On “Loose Lips,” for instance, everyone chanted, “remember that I love you.” It was in those moments, however brief, that what Dawson does became clear and even profound.

She wasn’t up there by herself all the time. A highlight of the night happened when someone from the audience shouted out a request for “It’s A Hard Knock Life,” and Dawson and Dave End decided to do an animated, wickedly funny duet of “Tomorrow”— a spontaneous and comical moment that you couldn’t have seen anywhere else. Rapper Aesop Rock, who makes many appearances on Thunder Thighs, performed a few songs with Dawson as well. But these felt unfamiliar to the audience, perhaps even awkward, and obviously a disappointment for anyone who came to hear, say, the popular Juno soundtrack material.

Dawson’s performance was hardly perfect: she made some slips. By the time she was finishing her set, at least a third of the already modest audience had vanished. Does anyone go to a Kimya Dawson show to see a flawless performance? You would think not. But perhaps honesty alone is only charming for so long.