When Lisa Alma was touring the East Coast this year, she played a number of cavernous concert halls that afforded her the luxury of playing a grand piano, so excuse Alma for feeling a little cramped Saturday night.
The tiny Fremont Abbey stage limited Alma to a keyboard, but that didn’t stop her from delivering a haunting set of subtle, electronic dream-pop. As soon as Alma began playing the first strains of “Our Time,” one woman in the back row had this succinct analysis: “All of a sudden I’m in Europe.”
It’s true, Alma’s charming Danish accent does worm its way into her singing, and the icy-cool beats she sings over instantly sound like they hail from Western Europe.
But Alma is more a poet than a pop-star with a pretty face — even if she is striking. Songs like “Outbalance” and “Down the Hill” (a rumination on what else, love) worked because of Alma’s smart lyrics and crystal clear, soulful voice.
It is probably fair to say that most people who came to the Abbey Saturday were there for Federico Aubele, but Alma proved to be a most pleasant surprise.
Sadly, the cramped stage did no favors for Aubele, an Argentinean singer-songwriter whose sample-heavy songs fit right in with Alma’s set. Aubele seemed like a caged animal, often trying to maneuver himself to the edge of the stage as he ripped through impressive classical guitar solos.
Looking a little like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan’s love child and sounding nearly as gravelly, Aubele benefited from the presence of Natalia Clavier, who sings with the Thievery Corporation.
She helped smooth out Aubele’s vocals, which were further muddled through no fault of his own by the Abbey’s PA system. It was simply over-matched and made the bass-heavy music a bit flat and tinny.
It was a shame because Aubele’s music had the crowd itching to dance. Unfortunately most of them were seated, but there were a few adventurous couples toward the back that enjoyed moving to new songs like “Somewhere Else” and “Carrousel sin Fin,” both off 2013′s “5.”
Aubele covered the span of his career, even reaching back as far as his 2004 debut album “Gran Hotel Buenos Aires” to pull out the meandering, infectious “Esta Noche.” A similarly pleasing ear worm was the hard-grooving “Lluvia,” from the 2007 album “Panamericana.”
Aubele usually plays larger venues such as the Triple Door or the Showbox at the Market, so it was an interesting and intimate venue to catch him at. He promised he would be back through Seattle in the spring. We hope he finds a venue that lets both performer and audience breath a little.
Two members of local band San Juan got things started. Keep an ear out for “Oysters,” a pretty tune about a family scrounging by through oyster farming that should be on the band’s upcoming release.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails