Photos By Katherine Gaines, Review By Andy Johnson
Sky Ferreira’s reputation precedes her. The raccoon-eyed 21-year-old has spent nearly her entire adult life working on her debut album, supporting her goal by modeling for brands like Adidas and Calvin Klein. Ferreira’s burgeoning stardom gave her famous-person friends, such as Miley Cyrus, Ezra Koenig and Jon Brion, but also famous-person problems, including a recent substance possession charge with boyfriend Zachary Cole Smith, frontman of Brooklyn indie rock group DIIV. Backing out of a North American tour with Vampire Weekend (citing “vocal injury”) shortly thereafter further ratcheted speculation that she was just another pretty face with a hip beau and a hipper drug problem.
Ferreira isn’t the first model to attempt a music career, and she likely won’t be the last. She scored a breakout hit last year with “Everything Is Embarrassing,” co-written by Dev Haynes, an England-born, Brooklyn-based musical polymath. Haynes also penned “Losing You” for Solange Knowles, a nearly identical, but superior song. Comparing the two tunes—and their respective singers—highlights Ferreria’s weaknesses: a lack of vocal strength and a detached persona that’s acceptable for the runway and Vogue, but won’t fly when trying to connect to an audience full of fawning fans. Indeed, there was little doubt that Ferreira has the looks and connections to be a success in contemporary culture, but not everyone who wants to be a singer can make it as a singer.
Both of her weaknesses were apparent during her good-but-not-great hour-long show Monday night at the 9:30 Club. Openers Smith Westerns came across as a destitute man’s Ty Segall or Tame Impala, trying to couple psychedelic rock with boilerplate ‘90s indie rock, resulting in a sum weaker than its parts. Compounding matters was frontman Cullen Omori’s feeble voice. To put it bluntly, Omori is not good at singing. I wouldn’t even call his vocal performance singing as much as air escaping his lungs with the tact of a one-night stand. Nevertheless, highlights of their 45-minute set came from guitarist Max Kakacek, whose crisp surf-psych rock solos saved their mediocre set. Smith Westerns could have been better, but they could have been far worse.
Ferreira, clad in a backwards baseball hat and an unbuttoned shirt, appeared at 10 pm with her backing band. Opening with “Boys,” her voice was off-kilt, barely able to hop from note to note. Some of this may have been due to sound mixing or technical limitations, as there was far too much treble and not enough bass. Yet the same errors were present on “Ain’t Your Right,” giving further credence to her critics that she’s a lousy performer.
Sky was also lost in stage fog for most of the night, planting herself stage center, belting out her songs with little lateral movement. Perhaps when she opens for Miley Cyrus next spring, she’ll expand her repertoire beyond “lean on microphone stand” and “brood.”
The night was looking like a bust until Ferreira loosened up during “24 Hours.” While her voice still cracked during the chorus, her rapport with the nearly-sold out mob noticeably increased. In turn, the reciprocated energy melted her pouty mood. The up-tempo “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)” could have been mistaken for a slick Garbage cover, with Ferreira filling the Shirley Manson role. I wager the noise generated during the pulsating “Omanko” could rival Sleigh Bells, who performed in the same room the following night.
My doubts about her voice and stage presence were quelled during a fantastic rendition of single “You’re Not the One,” when Ferreira and the audience finally synced up, indulging themselves in the soaring chorus. Several of her songs, including “Lost In My Bedroom” and “I Will” were muffled because her band couldn’t quite replicate their electronic production, but such misgivings were negligible.
Ferreira also announced she wasn’t feeling 100% (thus explaining her limited vocal range) and, somewhat surprisingly, acknowledged her nerves for having to play before large crowds. Her words: “I feel like I’m in high school.” She must have been anxious, as she accidently bumped her mouth on the microphone several times, causing slight bleeding and embarrassment. Realizing Ferreira, who appears so put together in magazines and photos, is a secret spazz makes me appreciate her far more in hindsight.
The evening deviated from Ferreira’s brand of alternative-pop when she performed “Night Time, My Time,” a dark slice of gothic trip-hop that leans more toward Portishead than Icona Pop. She closed the set with the crowd favorite “Everything is Embarrassing,” the one song that most everyone knew the lyrics for, where she whines, “I’ve been hating everything, everything that could have been, could have been my anything, now everything’s embarrassing.”
She returned for a boisterous performance of “Heavy Metal Heart” in the encore and appeared ready to call it a night when fans near the front began shouting for her to play one more song. She hemmed and hawed about not being up to it, but she acquiesced and performed “I Blame Myself,” unquestionably her best song to date and what should be her biggest hit if it gains momentum. I question if her hesitance was genuine or just patter, but the crowd eagerly assisted Ferreira with the song’s monstrous chorus: “I just want you to realize that I blame, blame myself for my reputation.”
After she finished, she thanked her band, she thanked her crowd, she thanked Smith Westerns, and, once more for good measure, she bumped her damn face on the mic. With agility like that, maybe it’s for the best that she’s strayed from the catwalk.