Jay Som engulfs Brick & Mortar with personal, dreamy physical release show

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DECEMBER 01, 2016

As Jay Som, also known as Melina Duterte, slightly adjusted her guitar’s tuning pegs on the Brick & Mortar Music Hall stage on the night of Nov. 18, she peered into the young crowd. Noticing familiar faces and welcoming new ones, Duterte gently called, “Come closer.” The denim jacket and beanie-clad audience shuffled forward toward the small stage of the Brick & Mortar Music Hall, where Jay Som set camp up for a short yet sweet set in celebration of the physical release of Turn Into, a collection of “finished and unfinished” songs Duterte singlehandedly wrote, recorded, and produced.

Backed by a full band, Jay Som ran into no problems with adapting her solo project into a live performance. By teasing out some of Turn Into’s subdued surf-rock inspiration and taking advantage of the extra band members to play around with the sound, Duterte infused a more spirited yet not incredibly unfamiliar energy, one that didn’t detract from Turn Into’s original entrancing appeal.

For instance, “Turn Into,” which the band opened its release party with, is an astral tune surrounded by Duterte’s honeyed voice on the record. But by playing up the jangly guitar licks on stage, turning up the bass, and injecting a psychedelic jam session in the middle, Jay Som gave the song a punchier feel. Similarly, in “Ghost,” a noisier, more chaotic bridge filled up the room, with the emphasis placed on mesmerizing guitar strums that emerged afterward.

A slideshow projected grainy footage of swaying flowers behind Duterte and company throughout the show, an homage to the photograph Duterte had chosen on a whim for Turn Into’s cover art. Garden flowers wavering in the wind dissolved into pink cacti blossoms amid tender songs of break ups and growing up. Later in the night, the footage turned more hypnotizing with a drifting kaleidoscope visual of bright red roses, seamlessly integrating with songs like “Drown,” a fuzzy, mumbling number that’d fit right into Loveless.

Having played most of Turn Into’s upbeat songs within 15 minutes of the show, Jay Som slowed the tempo down for a moment and highlighted her soothing lower-registered voice with the hazy, haloed “Unlimited Touch.” Unfortunately, the softer volume revealed some of the loud, alcohol-fueled chatter among audience members, which for a brief moment, disrupted the calm atmosphere Jay Som had set down.

Despite Turn Into’s cryptic, poignant lyrics, Jay Som was anything but somber; the physical release show felt like a warm, intimate celebration among friends. Duterte was all smiles, constantly sharing grins with her bandmates. And with a Grumpy Cat balloon sitting in the corner of the stage, the band cracked jokes at all possible opportunities. (“What’s ‘Ghost’ about, Zach?” joked Duterte. “It’s about Patrick Swayze. Do you know that pottery scene? It’s about that scene,” drummer Zachary Elsasser quipped.)

Before giving a final Terminator 2 name drop, Duterte made a quick pause from the jokes. “Please support your local musicians,” she said. “They need you now more than ever.”

Hearing this from Jay Som, who perhaps is a harbinger of who else might emerge in the Bay Area music realm, the message rings especially clear. It’s easy to say that the tech crowd killed the local creative scene, given that formerly San Francisco-based garage rock heavyweights John Dwyer and Ty Segall made an exodus for Los Angeles, but this blanket statement ignores the local artists who, like Duterte, are each brimming with projects of their own.

Sure, Jay Som isn’t the same in-your-face, weirdo musical brand the Bay Area might be known for. But at Brick & Mortar, her deeply introspective poeticism had a different kind of intensity, one that speaks as loud, or even louder, than the Bay Area garage rock expats.

Jay Som ended the night with her break-out single “I Think You’re Alright,” a story of unreciprocated, wistful love. Shutting her eyes, Duterte lowered her head and let hair fall in her face for the crescendo of noise. When the music dissipated to let Jay Som’s melodic guitar pluckings swirl underneath her voice, she a gave one last murmur to the crowd: “I like the way your lipstick stains on the corner of my smile, and you brush my hair aside / I like the way your lipstick stains on the corner of my smile, I pray you’ll last awhile.”

“Jay Sooom!” wailed one crowd member as Duterte waved both hands goodbye. The woman’s cry said it all: We don’t have to pray for Jay Som to last awhile.

Contact Adrienne Lee at 


NOVEMBER 30, 2016

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