Sunday, June 22, 2014

Talain Rayne... still good

I saw Talain Rayne last night at WXPN's Live at the World Cafe Upstairs.  Here's my review of the first time I saw him slightly edited for context: 

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I'm not much of a music junkie.  I rarely get to listen to new music, and when I do it generally comes from the radio or from the teenage girls I teach (which led to me being huge Ke$ha fan, if only so that I can strut into Room 233 five minutes late and say with my best Cali girl accent, "the class don't start til I walk in ").  ... One of my jobs is head of assembly board, the group that does the programming for our flex periods.  The girls really wanted to book a music group, but we had no budget.  So I charged them with finding someone local. "Try singer-songwriters," I told them, "they're cheap." "How about this guy?" said Dena after about 10 minutes of Googling.  And she showed us this video:

There was a murmur from the girls.  "Catchy," "He's cute."  "Book him!"

And so we wrote him an e-mail.  And he wrote us back and pretty soon we had him and his band booked for a 10:30 AM show.  I had downloaded his album, Facebook friended him, the usual deal to make sure he was PG 13 and would understand the rules about performing at a girls high school.  (I still haven't lived down the time I brought in Ursula Rucker and she said she was anti-feminist).  It wouldn't be a problem with Talain.  He's a Born Again Christian and former youth minister who gave serious thought to going the Christian recording group, but he didn't want to limit  himself that way.  I liked his album, Attic Lights, which you can also find for free.  I got some of his backstory.  French dad, American mom.  Divorce.  Learning differences.  Discovered music and it changed his life.  College dropout.  He's not real great at writing coherent sentences or spelling.  His voice has a super nasal twang that comes from a Francophone Dad and growing up in the Philly burbs.

At 10:30, 200 still sleepy girls walked into a converted barn that's sometimes used for plays and sometimes for wrestling matches.  Most of them don't even know they are going to see a concert; we've kept it a surprise.  The lights go down and out comes Talain and his band, two bearded guys who kind of look like hippy Jesuses.  They launch into Family Wall and most of the girls are so shocked they don't know what to do. "It's Assembly," they're thinking,  "Where's the speech about drunk driving, the solar ovens for Africa, the girls' school in South East Asia?"  They're not sure what they are supposed to do.  And after the first song, Talain says,  "You can get up and dance if you want" and 200 girls are on their feet and for the next 35 minutes he has them sit, dance, and sing along.  The too cool for school North Philly black girls in the back call me over "Who is he, we love him, is he on the radio?"  The Mt. Airy girls with the PC inter-racial or same sex couple parents (or maybe hipster white parents who just like living around the other two groups)  the ones who buy organic at the coop are dancing up a storm in the front row taking pictures with their phones.  The suburban white girls are simply so stunned that they are allowed to stop thinking about their futures for a minute and have fun that they are starting to lose themselves in the music.
       And between songs Talain's preaching up a storm.  Not about God, but about the power of music.  It's power to heal the pain and make it better.  Talain's songs are pop, but the subject matter is all wrong.  He's got love songs, but they are to his Dad and his sister about healing past hurts or recovering lost innocence.  In Dear Sister, Your Brother he sings: "Please say, everything is ok, tell me we can go play, like we did when we were younger."  Before he launches into 16 he tells the story behind the song, about the day he was leading a youth canoe trip and one of the kids fell out of the canoe, and how instead of pulling the kid out of the water, he reached in and pulled out the body of a 16 year old raped and murdered girl. 
           The girls are rapt.  As I help them pack up after the show, I ask one of the Jesus look-a-likes, "Is he aware of the affect he has on teenage girls?"  "Nope."  "Geez, that's some powerful stuff to not be aware of"  "Yup." They come to lunch.  Girls line up for autographs and to buy CDs. He goes to the songwriting class and talks about how his songs aren't really narratives, hell they're not particularly coherent, he works more from feelings than from a structured relationship to language. He gets 50 new FB friends that night.
             Since he performed, I've seen him a couple of times.  Never as the headliner.  He's won over the crowd every time.  He cut a track for the WXPN Christmas album.  He got a name check on MTV.  I think he might get signed soon.  I think he's going to be big.  But right now, I'm just happy to have seen him play to a barn of teenaged girls and know that he was there preaching the gospel of music and for 35 minutes or so, the congregation was an Amen chorus.

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That was four years ago.  Talain was the headliner last night.  He's going to have an EP this summer.  He's got the theme song for a new MTV show.  He's able to make a living making music (and doing music related things).  I still think he's going to be big someday.  Check him out. 


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