BOY at Bryant Lake Bowl, 3/18/13

BOY at Bryant Lake Bowl, 3/18/13
Photo by Tony Nelson

Bryant Lake Bowl, Minneapolis
Monday, March 18, 2013

BOY lead singer Valeska Steiner has a way of smiling that is completely her own. She bares her top row of glistening whites and turns up the corners of her mouth ever so slightly -- like fractions of a centimeter. It's a trademark, among many, that has carried her deceivingly unassuming German folk-pop act to a quick ascent. 

The trio's performance was undeniably under a microscope at the Bryant Lake Bowl's miniature, black box-like theater, but they rose to the occasion. The night, the first of a two-night stand in Minneapolis (the Cedar show is tonight), basked in a near-flawless glow -- blending warmth, humor, and devoted musicianship over the course of less than an hour.

See Also:
Slideshow: BOY at Bryant Lake Bowl, 3/18/13
BOY's Valeska Steiner: I'm glad we make music in English
Guitarist Deniz Erarslan sat at his station of pedals, guitars, and a kick tambourine first and set the stage with an ambient introduction to an unreleased track called "Into the Wild." The song began in earnest when Steiner and multi-instrumentalist Sonja Glass joined him, and the expression of devotion -- following someone out into the wilderness to live with animals isn't something you do for just anyone -- would set the tone for a night where Steiner's words remained at the forefront.

BOY at Bryant Lake Bowl, 3/18/13
BOY at Bryant Lake Bowl, 3/18/13
Photos by Tony Nelson

Though the players remained mostly still, the calculated developments within BOY's songs and breaks created movement. "Drive Darling" came after Glass briefly noted she was so glad the audience "found your way through the snow," which conjured the song's music video featuring the young female duo -- who come off as close confidantes -- eventually piling into deep drifts of snow. Plus, it was with this arrangement that Steiner explored her range, while showing a purity of voice not unlike the white stuff on the ground, especially with Glass quietly adding harmony.

Since BOY was fresh from seven South by Southwest performances, they were methodical and organized in the pacing of the evening, but also with the order of the songs. "Waitress" was an opportunity to show off an ability to improvise and rework their material, this relatable song about "counting the days 'til real life arrives" instead rode a Korg synth ably executed by Steiner. Perhaps they'll pack a banjo player, which augments the studio version, for their next U.S. visit.

A bit of an argument about whether Glass would tell a joke or not (she didn't) led into "Oh Boy," introduced as a song about "beautiful girls and the damage they do." And with this glee-filled moment recalling Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis, Steiner began to show an onstage strength that will carry BOY into far-larger spaces than this one. She took up an acoustic guitar for the follow-up, "Boris," which had all of the vocal nuances of an Edie Brickell song, but her eyes displayed a bit of Taylor Swift's man-crushing power. Their three-part harmonies filled the room. 
Both "Railway" and "Army" brought the playful acknowledgement that this is not the full BOY live lineup, and Steiner cued up beats on her Mac laptop in the still-quiet room. Perhaps desiring a bit more interaction, they then asked the crowd to tell them what they should know about Minneapolis beyond Prince. "The Replacements!" a guy shouted. "Is that your band?" Steiner shot back, wearing her indelible smile. Eventually, they launched into a song called "Skin" that does explore awfully similar "Nightclub Jitters" to the ones Paul Westerberg so often expressed. "You can get out of this party dress, but you can't get out of this skin," Steiner sang, and opened herself up endearingly.

BOY at Bryant Lake Bowl, 3/18/13
Photo by Tony Nelson

Deftly, BOY dropped the tempo for a twangy "July," which Erarslan accompanied with lap steel, but it didn't keep the "last song" moment from arriving ever so quickly. Knowing that their breakout single "Little Numbers" could be as well-known in Minneapolis as it is anywhere in the United States, the trio showed gratitude in their performance, and the stomping audience responded in kind.

After about 10 seconds backstage, Steiner and Glass returned to quietly perform "Zapping," a song that predates the Mutual Friends material, and explores boredom and discontent. It was easy to get hung up on the line, "You are all right, there's nothing you miss / but there must be grass a bit greener than this." Speckled with jazz notes, and during a quick silence, Steiner gave a quiet count of "ein, zwei, drei" to her bandmate -- they do speak German to each other, after all -- it charmed.

BOY at Bryant Lake Bowl, 3/18/13
Photo by Tony Nelson

With just the right amount of cheekiness, Glass introduced their final number, a cover of "Lonely Boy" from the Black Keys' 2011 album El Camino. "I'm sure you know them," she said. Like everything else over the course of their performance, choosing a song with their band name in its title showed keen awareness that surrounds this entire enterprise. Steiner then picked up a shaker small enough to be a baby's rattle, and with Erarslan back behind them displaying his most vicious chops of the night, this was an undeniable romp to end the show.  

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: Almost unnervingly quiet and attentive in the small theater.

Personal Bias: The Black Keys kinda lost the thread for me in about '06, but their song found new life for me in BOY's able hands. Also, anyone able to make it to the Cedar tonight to see them probably play it again should do so.

Overheard: When Steiner asked, "Do any of you work in a cafe?" a guy in the front row loudly proclaimed that he had taken the night off to see them perform.

Random Notebook Dump: That amp totally looks like a space heater.

Into the Wild
Drive Darling
Oh Boy
Little Numbers

Lonely Boy (The Black Keys)

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