From my office to the Tram to South Waterfront’s roads and sidewalks to Waterfront Park to quite possibly the most person-filled bus I’ve ever ridden; getting to S.J. “s00j” Tucker’s concert Friday night was an effort. There also was an emergency snack: KFC baked beans, because a KFC was the closest fast-food place to my bank’s ATM, in turn the closest ATM to In Other Words Bookstore on NE Killingsworth. Where Sooj, also known as Skinny White Chick, was. Whatever effort it took for Sooj to get there, she can tell you that. But hey, I can pretend she materialized there: that a fairy godmother and a coterie of fairies, wood-spirits and dust-obsessed mice appeared armed with wands and incantations, all used sparklingly to render S.J. Think the Disney version of Cinderella, if the animation ended with Sooj pointing to CDs on a table and saying “This is the chance you have to Buy Our Shit!” That’s Sooj: from ethereal to earthy.
Her singing voice seems larger than her body, like her voice draws power from the environment around her. (Hmm. Sooj as Jedi knight? I can almost see that.) Sooj can be quiet and unprepossessing, especially while sitting back to enjoy other people’s live music, but her demonstrative side asserts itself when she stands near a microphone, and then? Watch out.
As a happy surprise bonus, Sooj performed with one of her two compatriots in the band Tricky Pixie. Betsy Tinney, a.k.a. stealthcello, had driven Sooj down from Seattle (her base of operations this month) to Portland in the necessary musician’s accessory, a van for all their equipment, including Betsy’s cello. (Tricky Pixie fiddle player A.J. Adams was elsewhere on needed business.) “That’s some juicy cello right there,” Sooj said when the sound system got tweaked in the right way to make that instrument audible. Hanging back at the aforementioned CD table was a friend named Chris (vismaya_viewer), and she remained ready to sell people Sooj CDs. (I bought her three 2007 releases: Blessings, her second CD of songs and spoken-word pieces tied into the writing of Catherynne M. Valente (catvalente), and the live CD of Tricky Pixie’s first-ever concert.)
Some sort of miscommunication led to Sooj and Betsy believing they’d be the sole act at the event (the Luna music series, the last Friday of every month at In Other Words), but three other singer-songwriters turned out to be on the bill. So what they’d intended to be a two-hour set got distilled down to mostly proven crowd-winner-overs, like “Goddess” (“dedicated to everyone who’s had a crush on the cute girl at the coffee shop”), “The Wendy Trilogy” (a three-song cycle imagining: what if Wendy of Peter Pan had become a pirate?) and the Betsy-penned, Sooj-sung delight “Alligator in the House.” (Sooj pointed out the fragment of opera that made it into that song. She likes to make comments and tell stories while performing, extending the instrumental parts to do so.) They also played a newer Betsy song about a randy cat (inspired by one of Betsy’s; “I transcribed it,” she said); for part of the song they asked the audience to, instead of sing along, make cat-mating noises.
I showed up at In Other Words at about 6:45, soon after the event’s start, and hung back so as not to interrupt the first singer. Sooj was perched on a couch closer to the low stage. We finally both saw each other, and hugged, in between others’ songs. She told me she was missing friends of hers who’d been trapped by sickness at home and thus couldn’t attend, but there was my familiar and welcome face at least. And that helped. (The audience’s positive response to Sooj really helped, too, though a couple of people left in the middle of one song. Later Sooj said, deadpan, “I wasn’t lesbian enough for them.”)
I knew we had time after the event for food. I guessed correctly that Sooj, Betsy and Chris (and, of course, myself) could use food. I treated the three of them to pub grub at the McMenamin’s Chapel Pub – the former funeral home where I attended my Grandpa Bob’s memorial 4 ½ years ago – three blocks away. We loaded up the van (“Trunk Tetris!” I said, channeling Sooj’s friend shadesong), got it over to the pub, entered into its fireplace-fueled warmth, and proceeded to do what my family refers to as “laughing and scratching.” Good visiting happened. Sooj being Sooj, she pulled out her notebook and started writing a possible song, one inspired by another Luna Music singer. Not long before midnight, we wrapped up our revels and climbed back into the van, and I managed to guide them to near my neighborhood. I gave them directions for getting to I-5 northbound – not the most obvious trip from my neighborhood, but I’m assuming they made it – and walked home with a spring in my step and lots more s00j music in my backpack.
P.S. Heads-up if you hear a s00j-and-stealthcello performance soon: one of the new songs Betsy has penned has a sing-along part. The audience sings like cats in heat. You will enjoy finding out why.
P.P.S. You watch out for S.J. and make sure she’s fine? Then you’re a Sooj protector!
At last the 2/1 edit: s00j herself writes about the show here.