When Genevieve Stokes took the stage at San Francisco’s Brick & Mortar Music Hall last weekend, her presence was nothing short of striking. Her enchanting, slightly ominous sound filled the venue, treating an intimate audience to imaginative reflections on childhood, first love and heartbreak.
Stokes came onstage with an onslaught of sound. The band opened with “You & Me,” a track off her newest EP Catching Rabbits. The drumbeat sounded like a stifled clap of wood, creating a cavernous echo in the venue. Stokes’ lyrics gave shape to the auditory landscape, without letting go of its unsettling, eerie spirit: “Do I not give you what you need?/ You say I’m everything you wanted,/ But it’s never enough.”
From the beginning, her otherworldly performance was more than memorable.
A native of Portland, Maine, the 22-year-old singer and pianist has been producing music since she was a high school student. Previous singles and EPs, such as “Surface Tension” and Swimming Lessons, garnered attention from large audiences and established musical producers alike. Catching Rabbits marks her first solo tour — with her individual sound, dedicated fan base and distinctive aesthetic, Stokes is fast becoming a name in the indie scene.
On the whole, Stokes’ performance veered away from whatever expectations her song titles might suggest. “You & Me” is anything but the sweet love song it seems to be — its hollow sound, combined with Stokes’ haunting voice, emphasizes the frustration and loneliness that so often comes with love. It is impossible to ignore the gloom that runs through Stokes’ music. Even the name of the EP, Catching Rabbits, suggests the fulfillment of childhood hopes and dreams isn’t as blissful as they once seemed.
In live performance, Stokes demonstrates constant experimentation and creativity. In her performance of “Book of Memories,” another song from her most recent EP, she continued to draw on her unique form of magical nostalgia. As multicolored lightning flashed across the brick walls of the concert hall, the atmospheric love song was equally heartbreaking and enchanting.
Stokes ended the set with “Habits,” singing clearly into the crowd alongside catchy instrumentals. The song began with a charming piano riff that, by the chorus, spiraled into the dreamlike soundscape that punctuates her work. The lyrics were similarly formulated and decisive: ”I’m growing up but I’m not growing old/ And I hate to do anything that I’ve been told” but quickly turned into melodic repetitions of the phrase, “On again, off again/ Love me like oxygen.” This lyrical contrast was made all the more evident in live performance. As Stokes swayed between different emotional landscapes, the tension she brought to the song only made it stronger.
When Stokes was cheered back onstage for an encore, she accompanied herself on the keyboard for a short song called “Portland Nights.” The song was quick, sweet and emblematic of the themes that run throughout her music. The yearning for childhood, the importance of place and the dreamy sounds Stokes uses to represent those feelings all tied themselves together, punctuating the end of a mystical night.