Statuesque, bearded men sipped beer and rocked back and forth on their haunches to tales of gothic folk intimacy in San Francisco’s The Chapel. It had taken more than half a set to get here, but Marissa Nadler had managed to silence the aging male crowd. Her songs weave intimate stories of emotional affliction; Tuesday night’s story was about what it’s like to be let down by men.
Marissa Nadler is supporting New York indie-rock outfit Mercury Rev on the 20th anniversary tour of the group’s hit 1998 album Deserter’s Songs. Her eighth studio album For My Crimes, a more direct offering co-produced by Lawrence Rothman and Justin Raisen (Angel Olsen, Charli XCX), was released Sept. 28.
Support acts often have to face disinterested crowds congregating for something very different. No doubt the interplanetary dad rock, fronted by the eccentric Jonathan Donahue, is worlds apart from Nadler’s somber, stripped-down, two-person show. Despite being asked to tour alongside Mercury Rev, the headliner sonically burst apart the sobering mood Nadler created with an almost burdensome expanse of sound.
For female acts, however, the wrong crowd can bring indifference, disdain and outright hostility. While many female artists are offered support slots as tokenism — the only entry point into an industry stacked full of white men from stage to door — Marissa Nadler is more than well-established in the indie circuit. Sharon van Etten, Angel Olsen and Kristin Kontrol are just a few of her exceptional peers collaborating on her new album.
Yet as she opened with the lead single and title track “For My Crimes,” the bustle of middle-aged men watching from afar, thanks to two LCD screens on the venue’s mezzanine, did not subside. Her touring guitarist — on their third show together — was the recipient of a half dozen glares from Nadler throughout the set. Seated to her left, he appeared to hardly know the songs, attracting ire by missing or fluffing the endings on more than one occasion. It’s telling that he somehow managed to garner the loudest cheer of the night when introduced to the masculine audience.
Her first few songs required a battle with the sound man to sort out the levels in her earphones. A lone wolf whistle greeted the conclusion of her mournful confessional of a failed romance in “Said Goodbye to That Car.” Her consistency, both musically and professionally was tested further when she embarrassingly bumped the top of her head against the mic between songs. To her credit she continued through it all, dipped in the red stage light, only her elbow-y dancing resembled something shaky.
As the floor began to fill, the atmosphere Nadler had been attempting to create emerged: “Can we make it nice and dark and spooky down here?” she asked. Humbly aware of the atmosphere, she tried to placate the audience, joking about a stripped-down version of “Leave the Light On” “even for me.” It’s ultimately unnecessary, as by the time we reached her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s deep cut “Save Me A Place,” the old white male audience was silent, evenly dispersed to allow a draft to convene under Nadler’s chillingly tender set.
If consistency marks her career, then it’s true of this performance. Despite being let down by all kinds of men, she came through in the end, taking an audience request of “Dying Breed” to close out her set. All-female players and a reduced reverb to her vocals make her latest album defiantly and unashamedly female — even more than her direct storytelling does. Embattled, she came off victorious Tuesday night, stunning a belligerent male crowd to ensnared silence. Some nights mark how far we still have to go, and Marissa Nadler showed us how to keep going in spite of it all.
Contact Nash Croker at [email protected].