concert reviews

Rachael Sage, Right in Character
Rachael Sage at Jammin' Java, Vienna, VA, Tuesday 17 August 2004

Rachael Sage has an inimitable personal style, a balance of flamboyance and femininity. From her beaming smile to her glittery eye shadow, Sage literally sparkled onstage Tuesday night at Jammin' Java, sporting a black tutu over her pants and a studded leather belt that she said would give her mother a heart attack. Performing songs on her keyboard, she alternated between a sweet soprano and a husky growl that matched the low rumblings of sole accompanist Stephanie Winters's cello.

Sage creates identities for the characters in her songs, from imagining the actresses who would play them (Meryl Streep in "Jane's Dimitri"; Milla Jovovich in "Leah") to giving her boyfriends more compatible personalities ("If only the men in my life would behave like they do in my songs, I wouldn't have to break up with them after a month!" she exclaimed after her song "Sacrifice"). In the middle of her set, Sage performed two spoken-word poems over improvised cello and Chapman Stick, a long, narrow fretboard tapped with both hands that mimics a guitar and bass at once (played by opening act Greg Howard). Although her presentation veered into melodrama -- complete with foot-stomping and a wailing shriek of "freedom!" -- the diversion saved her set from the possible monotony of too many keyboard-driven songs.

Sage applied such unconventional techniques to her straightforward songs as well, stomping to keep the rhythm on "Sistersong," a tune she penned for Ani DiFranco. Down to the fuchsia feather boa tied to her mike stand, Rachael Sage's show was stamped with her personal style, a performance as distinctive as it was entertaining.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 19 August 2004
.: Selected discography: Ballads & Burlesque (Rachael Sage, 2004); Public Record (Rachael Sage, 2003).