Graphic featuring photos of Samia, Lala Lala, *repeat repeat, and Ohmme

I’ve never reviewed a concert before, nor did I imagine my first attempt would feature a virtual exhibition, but such is territory of this year of coronavirus and cancellations. 

While live music resounding from a sweaty-bodied, sticky-floored venue was (lamentably) out of the question, WRVU refused to let this be the end all be all for its annual celebration of music. In lieu of the usual “Cranberry Jam,” its COVID-counterpart came on March 18th in the form of Sham Jam, aptly named for the St. Patrick’s festivities just a day before. As luck would have it, the virtual stage was stacked with WRVU’s most iconic lineup to date.  

Ohmme, photo by Ash Dye.

The concert commenced with a set from Ohmme, an powerful pair whose inimitable sound derives from the eccentric improvisational music culture of their stomping grounds in Chicago. With Macie Stewart attired in a pink coverall and Sima Cunningham in a striking blue blazer, it was evident from the first electric strums of their opening track that this was going to be a badass show to behold. Things kicked off with “3 2 4 3,” a song rife with bold harmonies and biting guitar off of their newest release, Fantasize Your Ghost. Through the course of the set, the duo showcased songs from each stage of their discography, playing us through the oscillating vocals on “Fingerprints,” the mounting energy of “Icon,” and even a new song they graced us with near the set’s end. In our interview, Macie prefaced their show by telling us that this was a glimpse of the “pure joy” they felt in playing, and it was equally as joyous to bear witness to.

Jared and Kristyn Corder of *repeat repeat.

Next on the lineup was Nashville’s own *repeat repeat! The husband and wife duo Jared and Kristyn Corder informed us that this was their first performance of the year, and while an extraordinary compilation of their honeyed indie rock bops was to be expected, no one could have predicted the entire cinematic masterpiece they would immerse us in! The experience was full of contagiously energetic songs, some new and some old, that comprised what they deemed their favorite set to date. Each track featured kaleidoscopic visuals that perfectly paralleled the sugary-sweet psychedelics of their sound, but the standout was arguably their finale, a rendition of their classic tune, “Girlfriend.” As if it wasn’t already sufficiently gushing in youthful, pop-rock gaiety, it also happened to serve as Jared’s actual girlfriend-proposition to his now-wife from back in the day, making it all the more sentimental and fun to audience.

Lillie West of Lala Lala, photo from her Bandcamp.

Sham Jam’s third featured artist was none other than Lillie West of Chicago based Lala Lala, who quite literally took us on a journey through her music. After greeting us from the backseat of a moving car, Lillie began with a new track from a pending record, rich with raw vocals and layers of buoyant instrumentals. We then ventured to a corduroy-clad cover of “Range Rover” from her “garden,” otherwise known as the leaves of her monstera plant that abstractly framed her face, deep in song. Two particularly memorable moments were a dreamy performance of “Siren 042,” filmed through the bluish tint of a fish-eye lens, that felt both sonically and physically ethereal, followed by a solemn rendition of “Scary Movie” from her snowy back patio, wherein the sad strumming and chilled verses perfectly paralleled the Illinois cold. Holistically, Lillie’s set was an eclectic and yet still grippingly visceral portrayal of her already intimate ouvre, and it was a pleasure to tag along for the ride.

Samia Finnerty, photo by Jessica DiMento.

Samia Finnerty: with a New York rearing, an acclaimed album, and a recent move to Nashville under her belt, having this incredible singer-songwriter as Sham Jam’s headliner was kind of a huge deal (I, for one, fangirled heavily.) Samia professed the vulnerable sentiment that it was a bit scary to be singing to a camera in her empty room, but that she was so grateful to be there and that it felt wonderful to be performing, regardless. Her vulnerability prevailed through “Pool,” the hauntingly beautiful first track on her debut record The Baby. And so the set began, and with it commenced the near magnetic captivation that Samia so masterfully commands.  

The way in which she could so flawlessly transition from the echoes of her opener to the cheeky groove of “Fit N Full”  attests to the immensely versatile nature of her artistry. This versatility is an essential and recurring motif for Samia, evident in the poignancy of her lyricism, in which she pens verse rich in elaborate metaphor that would be just as at home nestled in the stanza of a poem as they are in her songs, but also verse that brazenly cuts to the point, so sharp it nearly stings. It is evident in the breadth of her vocals, in the fact that her heavenly high notes and the might of her voice somehow come from the same throat. Through the contrast of the rock-infused pulse of “Minnesota” (that admittedly had me dancing in my apartment alone) to the airy lilt of “Triptych,” and especially in the duality of delicacy and power in tracks like “Winnebago,” Samia makes us privy to the paradox that she is. 

All of this came to fruition in her second to last song, “Is There Something In The Movies?,” my personal favorite and the most acute exhibition of her multifacetedness. She hopscotched around octaves, nearly whispering in one lyric and shouting in the next. If that weren’t enough, she turned down her accompanying instrumentals at the end, so that it was just her voice alone, singing intricacies to us in her bedroom. On that note, Samia bid us farewell with a wholesome cover of The Weepies’ “Gotta Have You,” and I was genuinely sad for the show to end. Needless to say, Samia Finnerty sings honey and wildfire in the same breath, and it was a privilege to hear the melding of it all. 

If I had a dollar for every time I uttered the phrase “these unprecedented times” to euphemize all that has changed and been lost in the past year, I would certainly have enough money to afford a GA ticket to one of the concerts we all miss so dearly. Maybe even the meet and greet. Regardless, that fact of the matter is that nothing can replace live music: the buzz of standing-room-only excitement, the hazy smell of smoke as it marbles with the multicolor glare spilling from the ceiling, and the ensuing sore-throated, ear-ringing contentedness. I mourn it often, especially the sudden hush-then-roarous-cheering and palpable anticipation when the stage lights come up and with them rises a tangible sense of community. While this unprecedented season (M&G, here I come!) has certainly stripped us of the visceral connectivity inherent in live music, there is still something to be said for experiences like Sham Jam, an experience that really could not have been replicated in-person. With the audience quipping and conversing in the livestream chatbox, we were invited into Ohmme’s garage for a joy-filled jam session, absorbed into an entire cinematic adventure with *repeat repeat, taken on a sublime musical journey with Lala Lala, and met Samia in perhaps her most stripped-down state: singing to us from her bed between bits of conversation and sips of tea. It’s not what it once was, but it wasn’t trying to be; Sham Jam evidenced that the intimacy and community of music can be found in many forms. For the time being, at least, I will take these streamed sets in stride, savor every song, and soak up all the connection I can.