If you’re looking for something local and something new, there’s always something kicking around upstairs at the Columbus Theatre. Thursday night June 27, we had Providence’s own Museum Legs and OHMME out of Chicago, IL.
Museum Legs, Penn Sultan’s (Last Good Tooth) latest project, is symphonic folk art: lo-fi, guitar-driven with sprinkles of smartly placed noise from rattles, cymbals, and sound effects. While Sultan, the court jester of DIY music, arranged all the tunes and played most of the instruments on Giving the Clock Its Weight, Its Sway (released in March and featuring MorganEve Swain of Brown Bird and The Huntress and Holder of Hands), he was joined by a full band on Thursday night, including Jacob Wolf, Amato Zinno (Z-Boys), Casey Belisle (Roz and the Rice Cakes), and singer Tai Awolaju of Boo City.
Awolaju’s jazzy, choppy vocals were slightly dissonant against Sultan’s Brad Roberts baritone, but playfully so. Her personality is so delightfully Fiona Apple from the dancing to the tambourine shakes to the fits of giggles. Laughter erupted every time Sultan introduced the title and story behind the songs. “This is a song about performing live and realizing you’re doing a very bad job.” “True story!” Awolaju responded before the band played “Inherent Habits.” The audience seemed perfectly okay with not being in on the jokes as they frequently chimed in with amused comments. Sultan and Awolaju shared vocals on “The Art of Being a Woman,” a song that is a master class in both writing and emotional contagion. Museum Legs’ seven-song set featured arrangements that were both half-conscious and attentive, hypnotizing the audience while keeping them on their toes. Sultan has been at this for years and it’s great to see him trying on something new.
A truly dynamic duo (trio — I see you, Matt Carroll), OHMME (Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart) are classically trained pianists and chronic multi-instrumentalists with a keen understanding of the fundamental notions of music theory. They are also very busy. Following up their self-titled EP with the release of their first full length album, Parts, in 2018, OHMME toured with Jeff Tweedy and worked with Chance the Rapper (among other countless homespun acts). They’ve grabbed the Illinois music scene by the neck and now, with a brilliant ten-song set of mini-epics, kicked ass and took names in Providence, RI.
OHMME began the night with “Parts” and “Liquor Cabinet,” two songs that showcase the bass and wisdom in Cunningham’s voice. There are no vocal gymnastics, no ridiculous runs, and everything is always perfectly in tune. Stewart was the perfect counterpart, particularly on “Icon” where OHMME’s tandemly sing (as they frequently do — to such a powerful effec t– of which I am a total sucker!) as beautifully and harmoniously as Simon and Garfunkel. For real. OHMME fit so much inside that little theater: Stewart’s gentle, heartbreaking violin; aggressive, punky power chords; orchestral pop; a David Bowie cover of “Girl Loves Me” which had Cunningham belting, “Where the f**k did Monday go? I’ll go to this pig-and-pot show” with many goosebumps resulting. Self-possessed singing while playing with total abandon. Phenomenal.
While Parts is a damn fine EP, the OHMME live show captures what cannot be contained: the magic of their harmonies, the fierceness of their talent, and the voracious need to dismantle the monotony of paint-by-numbers composition. While their fans came out in a respectable amount OHMME’s brand of idiosyncratic peculiarity should sell out every venue they’re in. No doubt that they’ll get there. We’ll get there too.