“You’re a big fish now, though!” someone shouted from sidestage, just before Vagabon launched into “The Embers,” the final song of a stunning record release show at PhilaMOCA on Saturday night. Vagabon — the stage name of one Laetitia Tamko — was riding high on the release of Infinite Worlds, out the 24th on Father/Daughter Records. “The Embers,” a song exploring a more solipsistic landscape, repeats in its refrain that “I’m just a small fish.” While inside, Tamko may feel like a small fish in a big pond, the acclaimed release of Infinite Worlds and it’s two sold-out release shows (Friday night she appeared in Brooklyn with Mal Devisa and Jelani Sai) are ripples indicating that something big is emerging from beneath the surface.
The evening got started with an intimate set from soft-spoken songstress Julie Byrne. Hailing from Buffalo, NY, Byrne has been generating a lot of buzz in recent months over her distinct vein of quiet strength. Her new record Not Even Happiness is full of nooks and crannies that create unimaginable depths, both lyrically and sonically. If you’re going to see Waxahatchee’s Kate Crutchfield at Johnny Brenda’s next month, make sure to get there early to see Byrne, as well.
Also appearing was the magnificent Shamir. On his debut record Ratchet, Shamir Bailey crafted shimmery, danceable pop bangers that rightly grabbed the attention of many. Beginning his set apologetically, Bailey informed the crowd that the set would be mostly new material — saying “I’m sorry if you wanted to sing along.” There would be no need to apologize, as the new songs were more than enough to make it up to the eager audience. If you thought that you had Shamir figured out, think again. The new tracks exhibit virtually nothing of the dance-pop wunderkind we once knew. Backed by a drummer and bassist, Shamir played big guitar leads and led the rebranding of himself as a veritable rock god.
There was a palpable energy in the air at PhilaMOCA as Vagabon took to the stage and prepared for their performance. Tamko was impressed by the audience’s attentiveness — later in the evening while tuning her guitar, she expressed as much, saying “Wow, thank you for being so quiet and paying attention to these songs!” In all honesty, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a crowd so rapt by a performer. In both strength and solitude, Tamko brought the Vagabon ethos to life on stage. While much laud has been given about Infinite Worlds’ towering sonic moments, the inverse constructions are just as equally powerful — and it’s in that moment where her bandmates left the stage, and Tamko performed the tidal sounds of “Mal á L’aise” with only a small MIDI sampler pad that the powerful contrast between worlds could not be ignored.
Although not shying away from the “Indie Rock” tag (Vagabon was first described to me as “the first truly post-Hop Along band”), to pin down the music of Laetitia Tamko to any of it’s influential genres or heritages would be an extreme disservice. Tamko holds an Engineering degree and a love for the traditional music of her birth country, Cameroon — but while they may seem to be completely incongruous wells from which to draw, Vagabon proves able to be a very real bridge between these two worlds. The music of Vagabon is both crunchy and intelligently sensitive at the same time, or when not at the same time, at the right times. Precise and heartfelt, raw yet commanding, Vagabon contains multitudes. While didactic dichotomies may prove useful in some types of analysis, Tamko proved that they’re of no use in this wildness universe of Infinite Worlds.
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