Live and Local Review: Carly Garza at J&O's Cantina

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Carly Garza (photo by Karen Garanzuay)

 

’Tis the season, apparently, for homecoming shows. In consecutive days this week, expect the returns of boy wonder Marcus Rubio tonight at Tortillería La Popular, drummer Chuck Kerr and his Bad Breaks project at 502 on Friday, and California transplants Youngblood Hawke at the Scottish Rite Temple on Saturday. Kicking the homecoming parade off last night was Carly Garza, with the festively billed “A Carly Garza Christmas” at J&O's Cantina in Southtown. Before her move to Seattle to attend art school this summer, the singer/songwriter had made her name as possessing one of the biggest voices in town. But there were plenty of others filling the room at J&O's before her set.

George Garza Jr. (no relation to Carly), who I'd only know previously as bassist for Pop Pistol, showed off his talents on vocals and guitar, especially on a wonderfully tender take on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

Lonely Horse lead-bellower Nick Long also showed off a more delicate side to his typically volcanic vocal approach, even peppering his set with a few festive covers (though he did take some lyrical liberties with "Silent Night.")

It was the lone out-of-towner on the bill, New Orleans-based belter Elli Perry, who damn near stole the show out from under everybody.

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Elli Perry (photo by Karen Garanzuay)

She stopped all casual chit-chat in the bar cold with a wrenching take on Roy Orbison's "Cryin'" and followed up with an equally powerful run of original tracks. She even begrudgingly got into the Christmas spirit, teasing a bit of Wham's holiday shopping mall classic "Last Christmas" and capping on a high note with a fully-committed take on "Mr. Grinch."

Garza took to the stage after midnight, when the Wednesday night crowd had distilled to diehards there exclusively for her big return. Turned out to be a good thing to have the crowd already in her corner, as things started a bit rusty. Kicking things off on ukelele, she stumbled through an opening cover of Father John Misty's "Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" ("I haven't done this in a long time, guys," she reminded us). It didn't take long for her to hit her stride though, using Duffy's soulful "Syrup & Honey" ("Baby, baby, baby, spend your time on me") to glide into her sweet spot.

There's just such a nonchalance to Garza's singing that somehow makes her incredible vocal gifts even more engrossing. That was on full display as her set progressed. Garza also showed some serious ambition with her looping pedal, assembling a pretty effective groove for the Janelle Monáe jam "Givin Em What They Love" and nailing her second Father John Misty track "This is Sally Hatchet," replete with an impressive bit of layering to close it out. And yes, there were some Christmas songs (the show is called "A Carly Garza Christmas" after all). Sufjan Steven's more-festive-than-it-sounds "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!" made for a fine first choice. Garza then closed things off with a wonderful "Silver Bells" duet with Amanda Magaña of Lorita Drive, which inevitably turned into an audience sing-along.

It made for a bittersweet ending, knowing that this would be the last opportunity for a long time to see Garza back on stage. But for this night at least, it was great to hear that voice fill a room once again.

But wait, this just in! Carly will be opening for Televangelist at the Limelight this Saturday, and performing at 502 Bar next Thursday, December 26.

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