As she stared down at the strings, Meander carefully plucked each one as if still trying to figure out her song.
It gave her a fleeting element of innocence that created a balance between her and the audience. Her shyness came off as adorable rather than awkward and endeared her to the tiny audience before her.
Armed with just an acoustic guitar, Meander looked as if she could have walked out of a dorm room on the CSF campus and onto the stage for the Feb. 2 SUB show. But the Chicago-based artist—whose rustic folk has tones of pre-pop Jewel mixed with Feist and a touch of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville melodies—instead traveled 1,300 miles to play for an audience of approximately a dozen college students, many of whom seemed more focused on their cheese quesadillas than the music. Even the show’s other performer, Pillars and Tongues’ Mark Trecka, appeared to doze on a couch through parts of Meander’s set. Her somewhat monotonous and sleepy songs did nothing to jolt the audience into giving her their attention.
Meander’s quiet, whisper-like vocals were too subdued for her politically charged, passionate lyrics, which were often lost as she mumbled her way through her set. Each song recycled a finger-picked guitar style that, though at times beautiful, was too similar. Her voice lent itself to an upbeat tempo that she skirted, avoiding the opportunity to connect with her audience.
Conversely, when Trecka took the stage, his commanding voice grabbed the attention of the audience for the first time all night. The loud, powerful, clear timbre hung onto notes rather than words to elongate them with dramatic effect. His muddled guitar was hypnotic, pulling the listener into the melody and allowing the sounds of the audience to finally disappear.
Attached to the neck of the guitar, softening the somewhat dark music, were several sets of Tibetan bells placed there both to add texture to the music and, according to Trecka after the performance, ward off evil.
His love for music and performance screamed out as he focused on a short set that consisted of two 15-minute pieces. Whereas Meander was affected by the lack of audience, Trecka played as if he were playing for himself, immersed in his own art. Trecka embodies the serious hardcore traveling musician who will stop at nothing to get his music out into the world as he puts his vulnerability on display.
His genuine persona helped to pull Meander from her introverted performance during a short collaboration between the two sets. Trecka’s intricate guitar playing brought texture and allowed Meander to explore the depth of her voice without the distraction of her own guitar. The combination moved Meander’s music out of the realm of at-home birth or yoga-retreat soundtrack and into something to pay attention to because of its own merits.
By traveling and playing with Trecka, Meander has the opportunity to escape her inhibitions and grow as a performer who is not so affected by the audience, or lack of, and can focus on exploring her own musicianship and graduating from shows in college cafeterias to larger, more refined venues.