She strode on to the stage in a bright green wool coat and a white blousy shirt, accented with a simple black tie. She was neither scared nor overwhelmed. The stage, the crowd and perhaps even the city’s soul, itself, belonged to her. A confident smile dominated her demeanor, daring anyone to wrestle this night from her grasp. It’s a gutsy approach to step off Sixth Street and into one of the most storied venues still left in Austin and claim it so boldly. It’s even gutsier to do so when you’re an opening act. It tempts insanity to do this on your first ever tour, when you don’t have an album yet recorded. Opening for a pretty trendy draw, electronic soul man, Lauv, it’s a tall order.
And yet that’s precisely what Ashe did when she played The Parish on a weeknight in the middle of those slow live music weeks that lead to the monster that is SXSW. She ignored the pressure, the din of the cover bands and also-rans on ‘Dirty Sixth’ and commanded an audience that hardly knew her, turning them into new fans, and impressing a city that, musically, is not easily impressed.
A mere 24 years young, she is hard to ignore. That smile, while brazenly confident, is equally infectious. And, though her career has gotten a spark from collaborating with predominately electronic artists – singing haunting melodies over the thump and sway of dance rhythms – it’s clear that her training is born not of the street, but of study. A Berklee School of Music grad, her voice is not only talented, but pristinely polished. Notes aren’t missed and, unless she’s specifically feeling like it, there is no audible augmentation of her voice. Ultimately, it’s all Ashe, and the clarity of her vocals makes you wonder just how high she’ll soar.
Still, with few hits in circulation, there’s still a mystery as to what manner of artist Ashe will become. There’s no pigeonholing that voice, and with her talent, she could switch genres like changing instruments. On this night, for example, after three of her tunes she welcomed the room into her current mindset with a “Feeling Good” intro that was soon mashed up with “Pursuit of Happiness.” It’s telling that she perhaps made more of a meal of Lissie than Kid Cudi. It’s highest praise, since Lissie and others launched into music stardom from this same stage. The message from her performance is clear – there is no limit to where her music can take her. Lilting between Lissie and Billie Holliday (the most obvious comparative for the young songstress), she was explaining, through the mood and her incredible talent, that her ultra young audience could follow her into a true retrospective journey.
As for the specifics for the rest of the show, the bass was rattlingly oppressive, as all electronic music should be, but it somehow never drowned her vocals. On “Everybody Wanna Have a Good Life,” her voice had a chance to soar in and out of formal notes, landing on the chorus with a brightness that shined well beyond its years. From there she launched into “Used to It”, her cleanup hitter. It lived up to its hit status, getting a mostly unfamiliar audience into the infectious beats with aplomb. She edges close to trance when she dives into the beat too hard, but that voice is clearly above all the production. It might be why a solo effort is working for her, after partnering with so many djs as their hook. Think Dido…but younger and more refined.
Her stage patter is, if perhaps polished and developed, humble and inviting. She’s self deprecating, but as a point of pride rather than a hidden shame. It, too, belies so much potential. If she’s this comfortable on her first tour, performing for the first time in Austin, where will she be next year or in five? Clearly, there’s a Lana Del Rey vibe to her tunes, but her sledgehammer voice and earnest demeanor won’t let her go full-moody. She’s releasing new music on the fly, and is proud about the process working. The audience is lucky enough to be invited on the journey.
With Tim Speer on drums, she poured through about 10 songs that had enough variety and playfulness to make it without the benefit of a reality tv appearance. (Maybe there’s hope for the industry, yet?) Her other standout among the new material, “Choirs,” borrows a little from Kid Cudi, but again the talent carries her through to a climactic finish.
Ashe ended her night with “The Girl Who Cried”, which owes much more to the dance than to her voice, but it’s a very easy on ramp for new fans, of which it is clear she has new ones, judging by the crowd interaction during the song. Consider us chief among them, as we look at the calendar to watch for Ashe’s return.