By: Joy Rose
Samantha Stollenwerck :: 05.14.09 :: The Viper Room :: Los Angeles, CA
On May 14, jam maven Samantha Stollenwerck re-emerged onto the live music scene after spending five months of seclusion in the studio working on some new tracks for a forthcoming album. The site she chose was The Viper Room in Los Angeles, probably most well known for being the venue where actor River Phoenix died of an overdose in 1993. But that unfortunate claim to fame shouldn't belie the fact that the club truly is a necessary step on the teetering staircase to stardom for every L.A. rock band worth its weight in zebra-striped guitars.
Stollenwerck is now taking her rightful place as a pop-rock goddess, with a professional band of musicians culled from all over the stylistic map and a roster of new tunes that you find yourself singing long after they've been played. The members of the band at The Viper Room showcase performance had all contributed their talents to the studio sessions, which were produced by Jeff Trott, a veteran of many of Sheryl Crow's hits. They've toured and recorded with Beck, Macy Gray and many other major acts. Joining Stollenwerck on stage were Trott on electric guitar, Sean Hurley (Vertical Horizon) on bass, Victor Indrizzo (Alanis Morissette) on drums and percussion, Vincent Jones (Sarah McLachlan) on keyboards, and Joan Jones (Big Head Todd and the Monsters) on backup vocals. Everyone was laid-back but rocking, resulting in a grooving packed house, despite a show time of 8 p.m. on a Thursday - hours before typical vampire wakeup call on any given night on the Sunset Strip.
The new songs are danceable, hook-laden vehicles that take intermittent rock-outs and dip into reggae, funk and blues. When the silvery curtains parted on the small, semi-circular stage, Stollenwerck and the band blasted out with the hard-rocking, loopy "Oblivious." Through the incessant pop hook, she asks, "One foot in front of the other/ Do you really want to be oblivious?" Next, "One of Your Tattoos" was slower and more relaxed as she sang of relationship woes with just a touch of irony: "A moment of weakness is a moment of truth... Will I be one of your tattoos?"
Mid-set she put down her acoustic guitar for the first time all evening, acknowledging the novelty for her of standing almost naked without it. But without too much hesitation, she stepped to the mic and threw down the wordy "Carefree," which, with its lyrics of confidence, abandon and a bit of self-deprecating humor, is sure to become a liberation anthem: "I haven't changed from being the girl in the back of the class/ talking smack, too laid-back/ they said, man, when is she gonna get it all together?" Here, the serious message of not taking oneself so seriously dropped like a bomb: "I'm overeducated, under-learned/ a blond with an IQ of Arizona's temperature," she sang, while also revealing her creative struggle - "I try so hard to be a soldier, but end up crashing my own rollercoaster... Who knows if I'll find it, but I'm looking for the truth."
The gem of the set was the slowed-down, reggaefied "Japanese Single," where Stollenwerck sang about the futility of trying to live anyone's life but your own. After about six songs, she introduced the band, expressing gratitude for all their energy, then showed yet another side of herself by growling the blues on "Write His Name in the Sky." Here, she and Jones traded playful harmonies ("I'll do anything for love...") and Samantha whipped out the harmonica, showing no small blues influence in her collective repertoire, which now spans quite the gamut.
Stollenwerck's new songs are definitely coming from the heart, and the band was all-out in delivering them to their full power. Although the sound of the new tunes is more pop and a step away from the lengthy jamming of her past performances, the San Francisco summer of love message is still alive and well in the lyrics and should be a blast to dance to in the mud at a festival, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Before the shiny curtain closed at the end of her set, she told the audience that she wanted to leave them wanting more. No, problem, Samantha. We'll be waiting.
Continue reading for a conversation with Samantha Stollenwerck...