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Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008

Vienna Teng @ The Miramar Theatre

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

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   In pigtails and a prim frock at the Miramar Theatre last Tuesday night, with her childlike faade pianist and singer-songwriter Vienna Teng belied a lyrical maturity and vast musical range that shifted from chamber pop to soul and jazz, spliced with bits of wit and candor. Channeling the canny ease of a nightclub's resident crooner, she encouraged audience participation, solicited requests and graciously played them all.

  In Teng's oeuvre, there is no shortage of pit stops on the American landscape: Roadside diners, mining towns and billboard politics all populate her narratives. Her songs are thoughtfully forged from a keen sense-memory and an ability to transcend the first person pitfall of self-conscious introspection. Teng is at her literate, lyrical best when she inhabits the lives of her disparate characters.

  During the opening song "Whatever You Want," from 2006's Dreaming Through the Noise, Teng embodies the voice of a doting but unsatisfied woman, "a dress wearing a face in the doorway," married to an accountant whose numbers are a jealous mistress. Glancing coquettishly at the audience, Teng breathily chanted the song's earnest chorus-title at an above whisper that roiled with domestic desperation.

  Following with "Blue Caravan," Teng displayed her penchant for dramatic crescendos. Building slowly to a fit of musical histrionics, she pounded the keys and writhed on the bench as percussionist and collaborator Alex Wong (The Paper Raincoat, The Animators) accompanied her on a Waterphone, a shrill, bell-shaped, tined-metal instrument played with a bow.

  Teng began to wrap up with the much-anticipated "Harbor," a song that garnered multiple requests. Teng so pleased the audience that she was able to coerce them into accompanying her on "Soon Love Soon," a call and response from her 2002 debut, Waking Hour.

  It took only a shout or two for Teng and Wong to return to the stage for an encore. Her soulful side emerged once again for "Grandmother Song," from her forthcoming album. Preaching the matriarch's words a cappella, Teng clapped like a one-woman Sunday morning service, recounting her grandmother's advice to find a practical man-not a mercurial musician-capable of supporting her. Despite this well-meaning but antiquated plea, the talented and confident Teng doesn't need a fallback plan. Unlike the accountant's doting wife in her domestic despair, Teng need not rely on anyone but herself.

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