Kristie Stremel might have been the official headliner on Monday night, but the crowd was not hers. Although she pulled out all the stops, covering a Creedence Clearwater Revival tune and playing her guitar behind her head, Stremel couldn’t wrestle the spotlight away from Tina, the artist she followed to the stage. True, the most boisterous crowd response of the night came during Stremel’s set, but it took Tina joining her for a spirited rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” to incite such a reaction.
After wondering aloud how to follow a set by the vocally gifted Tina, Stremel answered her own inquiry by packing her set with rockers, although, as she was accompanied only by guitarist Chris Meck and not her full band, listeners might have been expecting to hear more of her low-key selections. Eventually, she played those as well, with “Single Day,” one of the most achingly powerful love-themed tunes in recent memory, providing the evening’s highlight. She also unveiled several promising new compositions, as well as playing “Working on a Miracle,” a song she introduced as new though she’s been playing it live for months. Late in her relatively lengthy showcase, Stremel cleared the stage for Sister Mary Rotten Crotch drummer and budding songwriter Amy Farrand, who proceeded to beat the holy hell out of Stremel’s guitar while bellowing yet another Joplin tune, this time “Turtle Blues.” During Farrand’s impromptu appearance, Stremel sat on a staircase with a bemused look on her face, an appropriate scene during a night that had her alternating between upstaged spectator and star attraction.
The evening truly belonged to Tina, whose ran her raspy voice through a rigorous workout that included unorthodox inflection and plenty of histrionics. The former leader of the B-Side Movement seemed to pack everything but her b-sides into a thorough setlist that encompassed her 10-year career and covered an impressive amount of emotional territory. Mixing a bluesy sense of repetition with plenty of soulful growls and a nod to her funky Minneapolis native Prince, Tina entranced her followers, who hung on her every roar and showered her with shouts of encouragement and praise. This crowd was more than ready for an encore, so when Tina took the stage with Stremel and belted out the Joplin joint, it reached its emotional crescendo, then let out a satisfied sigh as she again strolled off the stage, closure having been achieved.
Perhaps cognizant of its mostly female audience, Fatback eschewed its usual perversity-heavy banter and delivered a straight-forward, acoustic-guitar-powered set. Alas, the group couldn’t resist fitting in one 2 Live Crew chant (“Hey, we want some pus-say!”), but it redeemed itself somewhat by letting local vocalist Molly Hammer, with whom it sometimes collaborates, take over the microphone on one of its own tunes and on a cover of Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting.” This proved to be a wise decision, as her passionate singing nearly bailed out its lackluster rendition. The group offered occasional visual stimulation, with one member, who had no instrumental duties on this night, balancing stacks of blocks and performing rhythmic gymnastics with glowing jump-ropes. On this night, these are the type of theatrics Stremel would have needed to become the crowd’s darling. Instead, this was the type of night when those in attendance eagerly devoured the main course between nibbling politely on the appetizer and the dessert.