When I first heard Fiona Silver sing, I was taken aback by how rich and velvety her voice sounds. Watching it emanate from such a petite and girlish frame I was certain it was an affectation, like successfully imitating the vocal inflection of another singer only to ruin the illusion by attempting to improvise in a voice that is clearly not your own. And so, on Tuesday 23 at the Mercury Lounge, I awaited to hear if she’d falter, some crack in that smokey, aural mist of a voice the creeps around and envelopes everything. But it never came. Whether at a lusty whisper or intimate croon or authoritatively sassy yell the voice is her own. In a room full of fans mouthing her lyrics and dancing, I must’ve been the last one to know.
Onstage Fiona confidently stood behind the microphone stand wearing a crushed pink velvet dress with black-lace trim. Her ensemble was completed by a silver sequined guitar, which she strapped on depending on the song. When she wasn’t playing it, she gave herself entirely to the stage, her audience, and the music. Even wearing four inch heel boots, she moved around the stage deftly and threw herself onto her knees dramatically to punctuate a cacophonous instrumental part of the song or her own plaintive wail.
Her hair in tangles, cheeks ruddy from exertion, and the microphone brought tremulously to her lips created the perfect tableau to encapsulate her music. The wellspring of her musical sensibility comes from a place of loss rather than of ire. Notwithstanding a swagger that warns of a fiercely independent woman there is a vulnerability, a willingness to submit to that special other if only to mollify that makes her music and Fiona Silver as an artist so endearing.
This is not to say that the music itself is all gloom. Backed by a very talented guitarist and rhythm section, the style of her songs run the gamut from up-beat, lightly distorted punk gems like “Housewife” to funky danceable numbers like “Keep It Fresh” with its infections guitar strum. Songs like “Here Comes the Fall,” “Sandcastle,” and “Take Me Down” allow Fiona’s husky voice to fully expand and take its place as an essential part of the composition, rather than as an additional instrumental overlay carrying purely semantic import. The old rhythm & blues and Soul influences are most prevalent in songs like these. A quick youtube search reveals that covers of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You” are also a part of her repertoire, so my suspicion that she grew up singing old soul songs into her hair-brush as a kid is not totally unfounded.
Regardless of the musicians who have influenced her, it is clear that there is little holding Fiona Silver back from using her considerable talent in any genre of music she decides to dabble in, and absolutely no sign that her fans wouldn’t follow to support her. When the show ended the packed house wouldn’t stop cheering and shouting, “We love you, Fi.” If I had had any misgivings coming into the show about the authenticity of Fiona Silver they were summarily dispelled well before the last song of her set.