I don’t recall ever being at the Acadia Cafe when things weren’t held up at least once due to time-consuming rearrangment of the sound equipment. Tonight follows suit as The Wrong Omar try to get their set under way.
They’re three pieces—two acoustic guitars, percussion. One fellow is fiddling with sweet-sounding major-seven chords whle the engineer fiddles with microphones and wires. At length, The Wrong Omar open with a tune that utilizes the chord progression that guy was playing. It’s beatiful with a strong, pointed chorus that compels with engaging urgency. Problem is, his singing is spotty. Starts out with a weak upper register, slips onto solid ground and stays there for the most part, but occasionally lapses back into that annoyingly shakey reach for delicate high notes he just can’t grab, let alone hold. Two songs later, including more sound isssues, this has become a pattern. Excellent songwriting. Warm, wry melodies over bright, moody chords with a hit-and-miss vocal. When it hits, it’s dead-on, brilliantly inspired. When it misses, well, you get the idea.
Becky Shaheen and the Midnight Hour close the evening. Shaheen is on vocals and keys, backed by guitar, bass, and drums. It’s workable pop rock with pretensions to jazz, nothing particularly remarkable. Shaheen opens bombastic, strident, way over the top, with almost shrieking vocals that, making mediocre matters worse, have too much treble on them at the sound board. As the set progresses, what lyrics I can make out are plagiarism imaginably meant as homage or, perhaps, witty reference by way of artistic license. “If music be the food of love, play on.” The drummer, indulging histrionics, inexplicably self-impressed, is given to cliched, formulaic fills, hackneyed riffs and, in general, unimaginative excess. Guitar and bass suffice, slightly better than your average sideman.
One thing surely can be said of Becky Shaheen. She owns a healthy set of lungs and clear tonality. Which makes it all the worse that she constantly overblows. Her songwriting is a plus, clearly ambitious—if Carole King sat in with Yes it would sound something like the material here. And, were Shaneen to settle for singing with feeling instead of frenetically going for aural acrobatics, she just might be onto something. Technical proficiency, alas, is no substitute for passion. That is glaringly evident as she downshifts, attempting to wax reflective, ineffectually scatting, devoid of what you need most for a ballad: discernible emotion. Ultimately, artifice abounds.