I stumbled across a couple of her videos on YouTube and was impressed. While her choice of material left something to be desired, her musicianship was excellent and she had a good sense of staging and theatrics. I also fully support artists who have rebuked the business model of signing with a major (or even a minor) record label and who are out there doing it themselves. This requires an advanced skill-set that has nothing to do with playing music. It also involves a precarious economic calculation – given a certain anticipated revenue stream, what are the costs of taking on these functions internally versus sub-contracting them out. A few missteps here could mean either an excess of costs over sales, or (the other direction) sales lost due to insufficient support.
Given the fact her videos have millions of views I was surprised by the fact she wasn’t playing a larger venue and that the tickets were reasonably priced at $35. I don’t know if this is because $35 was the market-clearing price or if she had made a decision to play to a full smaller house rather than a somewhat emptier larger house, a totally rational calculation to make. The Roxy’s capacity is unknown; several on-line sources say it’s between 450-500 persons but this is hard to believe, my impression is that it’s somewhat smaller. Even at 500 * $35 = gross of $17,500, which is not a lot considering not one not two but three supporting acts, musicians, touring costs, etc.
On the subject of supporting acts, the first was mediocre and the second and third, inappropriate. The first was some guy named George Sarah’s String Ensemble. He stood there pushing buttons on a DJ console to the accompaniment of four dispirited string players. Total boredom. The second was an Americana group unhelpfully called Von Grey. They’re four young ladies in the angry Taylor Swift tradition. While their musicianship was excellent their songwriting was uninspired. The poor girl on stage left couldn’t even be heard in the mix. The third was The Vibrant Sound. Hard to pin down their genre, they mainly did unexpected cover tunes of funk-soul music from the 1970s – 1980s. At best their musicianship was competent with the exception of their drummer, Valeria Sepulveda, who was superb. All of these opening acts suffered from stylistic anomalies, if Stirling wanted an opening act that would better showcase her own musicianship I can think of a dozen better alternatives. It’s also mystery why Stirling is carrying this many opening acts. There were groans after the first, vocal complaints after the second, and after the third several people in my near vicinity couldn’t take the ordeal further and left before Stirling even got onstage.
Stirling played with two other musicians, a drummer and a keyboardist who, in addition to playing several keyboards, also triggered samples. One of the main problems was the front-of-house mix. Someone should introduce the person at the controls to the concept of bass compression. It was way too boomy throughout the room. I’m not against loud bass, I just think the frequencies need to be managed properly in order to promote intelligibility.
Stirling has a limited but endearing repertoire of poses. “The first is looking over her shoulder in apprehension of what she might see.” The second is “delight at looking downwards and finding an apparent leprechaun underneath a toadstool.” The third is “staring dreamily off into space.” No matter, she is an innovator in the tradition of other rock violinists ranging from David LaFlamme (It’s A Beautiful Day) to Jerry Goodman (The Flock, Mahavishnu Orchestra) to Jean-Luc Ponty to Darryl Way (Curved Air) to Graham Smith (String Driven Thing, Van der Graff Generator) (apologies if I’m leaving out any of my influences here). Even those guys basically just stood there, whereas Stirling’s got some moves, lending drama to her show.
On the whole I enjoyed it, it was nothing more than it purported to be, I’m pleased Stirling is achieving a level of success she deserves. I can’t help but noticing the size of the venues she’s playing has been increasing during the course of her tour.