AJJ and Kimya Dawson Create The Perfect Pair At Varsity Theater

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Full disclosure, when I saw the duo of Kimya Dawson and AJJ for a Sunday night show I intrigued and knew I couldn’t miss it. It was such an odd duo in my mind but, after being blown away by the duo of Sting and Shaggy last weekend, I wasn’t going to judge anything. Were they going to play songs together? Do their own thing? Hell, I didn’t care. I was about to see two of my favorites in one night. I had no complaints and was genuinely excited as I headed towards Dinkytown and The Varsity Theater.

Kicking the night off was Shellshag from New York. I was instantly struck by this duo’s set up. It was minimal to say the least with Shell holding a guitar behind a microphone and then Shag set up behind just a couple of drums while wearing bells around her waist and legs (disclaimer, I’m not sure of their full names. My apologies!). To say I was intrigued would be an understatement but as soon as the duo jumped into their quick twenty five minute set, that intrigue turned to love. Their sound was a very unpolished garage punk sound but it was so uber perfect I’m not even quite sure how to put it into words. There was a sense of aggression that definitely did the job of waking you up and getting you in the mood to party on a Sunday night but there was also this truly creativity vibe about it that had you constantly wondering what was going to come next. Shellshag’s short set ended with Shag creating a tower with her drums and Shell balancing his guitar on top of that. Think mediation rocks for musicians. It was quirky, it was fun and Shellshag’s set had me smiling ear to ear only twenty-five minutes into the show. I knew right then and there that it was going to be an amazing night.

Following Shellshag was the one and only Laura Stevenson. This lady is a force to be  reckoned with and although I loved her contribution to Bomb The Music Industry!, I love her solo stuff more. Her lyrics are raw and honest and that matches her demeanor on stage. Although it’s clear that she takes her music seriously, there was a sense of playfulness as she interacted with the packed audience. Joking around about how sad and depressing her songs are and how two back to back songs were in the same key and both said so “they are pretty much the same song”, Laura had a powerful presence about her. I loved the way that she started off the set as a solo artist and then, just a couple of songs in, brought out a drummer and bassist. Even with the addition of the two people on stage, Laura had no problem commanding the stage and audience throughout her short set.

What happened next wasn’t surprising but it made me so freaking happy it will be a struggle for me to put into words. I’ve kind of seem Kimya Dawson before. She performed at the 20th anniversary party for Rhymesayers but she was joined on stage by Aesop Rock (together they are called The Uncluded). Although just seeing Kimya live was a dream come true, it left me wanting more because I didn’t hear what I wanted to hear during her short set that night. That all changed last night. Sure, I was stoked to see AJJ but I knew it in my heart and soul that Kimya would be stealing last night’s show and that’s exactly what she did.

Kimya Dawson seemed to break into the mainstream when a handful of her songs were used on the soundtrack of the hit 2008 movie ‘Juno’. The first time I saw that movie, I absolutely fell in love with Kimya, her voice, and her message. Her lyrics are raw, honest to a fault, and full of love. Her voice is something so distinct that it’s nearly impossible to describe unless you’ve heard it. It kind of sounds like a young and scared child but it has a very musical cadence to it even when Kimya is just speaking. Her live show matched her music. It was just Kimya sitting in a chair with a guitar in her hand and a microphone in her face. It was so informal and so personable that it added this “friendship” element that only makes sense when you listen to her lyrics. Her set was full of laughs (especially when she played a couple songs off her children’s album), thought provoking words (like during her song regarding quality and justice for all), and pure happiness (like during “Loose Lips” which took majority of the audience back to a simpler time). There was not a single moment during Kimya’s set that there wasn’t a smile on my face and my heart definitely skipped a beat as the icon walked right past me after leaving the stage. Some musicians are able to give you butterflies just because their beauty and talent radiates stronger than the spotlights that light up the stage– Kimya Dawson is one of those musicians.

Honestly, the show could have ended after Kimya’s set and I would have been more than content but we still had AJJ left and, even though I was blown away by Kimya’s set, I was super excited to see AJJ again. The last time I saw AJJ (formerly known as Andrew Jackson Jihad but changed for obvious reasons) they played through their album “People Who Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World”. As amazing as that album is and as great as it was to hear it from front to back, I feel like because of the time it took up, I didn’t get to hear some of the other songs I wanted to hear. That changed last night and it seemed like AJJ was reading my mind when writing their set list.

It was song after sound of their quirky folk punk rock sound. Much like Kimya Dawson, AJJ’s lyrics are raw and honest. I love the way they sing about things that effect me (and clearly majority of the crowd) like anxiety and politics without making it overtly obvious. The quirkiness of their lyrics seem to match the quirkiness of their sound perfectly. When you add in the almost socially awkward personalities that shine on stage, you are left with something truly magical. Although the four members didn’t address the crowd many times, when they did you could tell that they were truly honored and thankful to be playing in front of such a large crowd on such a rainy and dreary Sunday night.

My night may have ended with an extremely minor hit and run that left a nasty scratch on my car and me having to call me dad to figure out what to do. Even when I was talking to the cop that came to take a look at the damage (which was under $1000 so he couldn’t really do much other than offer me a hug) I had a smile on my face. Last night was such a good show that even a small fender bender couldn’t erase that grin.

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