I went to listen to and see Vienna Teng last night at the Birchmere in Alexandria Va. First up, what a privilege it is to have such a great venue just down the road from me. I feel really spoiled.
Vienna Teng herself did not disappoint, either. For those of you who haven't heard her, you should go on over to her home page or MySpace page and give her a listen. Or if you're really keen there is a streaming version of a concert she did in Cleveland at Folk Alley.She is of course a computer science grad from Stanford who worked for a while for Cisco before going into music full time. In honor of her past employment my colleague Danny and I spent the week making up (very bad) songs from the perspective of a network engineer ("You DNS'd the router of my heart").
Teng is one of those artists whose speaking voice I really love. I could listen to her all night. But her singing doesn't disappoint. There is a luminous sort of quality to her songs and her singing that really draws you in. She is backed up by, of all things, a viola, a violin and some pretty nifty and unusual percussion. From where I was sitting it looked like the percussion player was playing alternately a small bird cage and a cardboard box. Whatever it was it was used to great effect. And I never thought I would want to give a standing ovation after an extended cello and violin duet riff but I did.
The highlight of the concert was Vienna's performance of her apartment hunting song 1 bed/I bath in the middle of which she launched into a very jazzy sampling of Simon and Garfunkel's Cecilia (the good bit) which they then carried on through the song in a round. The CD version of that song is unfortunately much less fun.
My one criticism of Teng's music flows out of that somewhat. There is obviously huge potential there but she needs to cut loose a bit more and add those layers of depth and variation that will make her music so much more than just pretty. Part of the symptom of this, and probably part of the cause , is her songwriting. Her songs don't really hit you upside the head in the way that I really think they should. I really look forward to her working on communicating the stories and emotions better, to the point where her writing matches the huge talent of her singing.