Wednesday night, thousands of indie rock enthusiasts flocked to Pabst Theater to take in a sold-out performance by stage veterans, Spoon. Meanwhile, a couple hundred people converged in the comparably more cozy confines of Colectivo’s Back Room a few miles away to watch the new guard in action. Just six months removed from both a sold-out Milwaukee debut at Cactus Club and the release of the breakout album, Everybody Works, Jay Som—the project helmed by Oakland singer-songwriter Melina Duterte—returned to the city to headline an all-ages affair, and to win over those who missed them in March with almost an hour worth of soothing tunes, affable stage banter, and enough entertainment to make those who witnessed the mid-week show not regret missing Spoon.
Before the guest of honor played, New York bedroom popper Soccer Mommy and Detroit trio Stef Chura put the young and attentive Back Room audience into a comfortable trance with dour and delicate material in support of Jay Som. Tone effectively set, the headliner took the stage after a surprisingly brief between-act changeover and led the coffee shop on a rewarding, no-nonsense (okay, maybe some nonsense) aural jaunt through all three Jay Som releases, with a few off-book song modifications carefully incorporated to keep things interesting.
After Duterte introduced the band, the bandleader and her collaborators kicked off the 50-some-minute set with “Everybody Works,” the title track and one of the best songs on her great 2017 album, complete with an extended ending and some loops supplied by the drummer. Given the relatively limited amount of material in the young band’s catalog, the set almost exclusively relied on songs from Everybody Works and last year’s Turn Into. Thankfully, with fewer songs to choose from, any idea of hearing filler was eliminated. Between new entrants like “One More Time, Please”, “Baybee”, and “The Bus Song” (which featured ample audience accompaniment on the song’s “But I like the bus!” line), and older material like “Turn Into” and “Our Red Door”, every song mattered. Each of the 10 offerings were played carefully and exceptionally, with Duterte’s gorgeous voice providing lush coverage throughout.
Though facing a long tour that stretches into November, the quartet was upbeat and endearing. “Show of hands, who’s sleepy?” Duterte asked between songs around the set’s midway point, prompting a few limbs to go up. “Oh damn!” During “The Bus Song,” the pint-sized powerhouse crept up behind her lanky, zoned-out bassist and startled him. That incited a staring contest and the bandmates playing notes on each other’s instruments. Duterte also thanked Colectivo’s sound engineers by name before bringing the satisfying hump day performance home with a fuzzed-out rendition of the beautiful B-side, “I Think You’re Alright.”
It’s safe the say those who skipped Spoon or sleep to come out on a Wednesday also thought Jay Som was alright, if not downright delightful.