By Danny Fryland
On September 22, Kimya Dawson soothed the Cat in the Cream with gentle guitar chords and heartfelt lyrics, performing songs from her upcoming album, Thunder Thighs, alongside older numbers like “Tire Swing.”
Whoever chose the Cat in the Cream as the venue for Dawson hugely underestimated the crowd that would show up for the anti-folk singer/songwriter. The show started at 8:00, and by seven o’clock, the hallway outside the Cat was packed. Around 7:30, Dawson returned (a staff member had told the crowd waiting that she went to a vigil held in memory of Troy Davis) and pushed her way through the crowd. Moments later, the door opened, and everyone who had been waiting outside flooded in.
The stage was bare except for a single chair and microphone. The seats for the audience, meanwhile, were filling up quickly. Soon people took to sitting on the floor, though this space too was quickly exhausted. Latecomers carefully stepped over heads, bodies, and limbs to make their way through the doorway.
Finally, Dawson emerged from the back of the Cat holding a guitar, and the audience erupted with applause. She sat down, muttered, “I guess we’ll start at the beginning. This is the first song I wrote when I started writing my own songs,” and launched into “Eleventeen.” As she began strumming the opening chords, the audience fell silent.
Between songs, Dawson chatted to the audience, giving some background about the songs she was singing and explaining what they meant to her. “I feel like I’m on VH1 Storytellers,” she joked as she told the audience about writing “Singing Machine” and borrowing Third Eye Blind’s studio.
First emerging on the music scene with Adam Green in the Moldy Peaches, Dawson has collaborated with many other musicians over the course of her career. In addition to her solo career, she has also recorded with Antsy Pants and has worked with Jeffrey Lewis in a band called The Bundles. Dawson performed mainly songs from her solo career, but threw in “Tree Hugger,” from Antsy Pants, which she said she only recently began performing live.
“I feel pretty nervous today,” the singer admitted between songs, “Yesterday was hard… just watching [DemocracyNow's coverage of the Troy Davis execution] all day.” After some brief reflection on the incident, Dawson called for a moment of silence for Troy Davis. The silence was absolute. After a minute or so, Dawson broke the silence, gently strumming the chords to “Fire.”
Dawson also performed several songs from her kids’ album Alphabutt and actively encouraged audience participation. During “We’re All Animals,” though, the audience missed its cue when Dawson sang, “Can you think of any other animals?” Dawson seemed a little irritated, “Seriously? You guys can’t even think of one fucking animal?!” At this, everyone got the hint, and started yelling out different animals all at the same time. When Dawson asked what sounds the animals made, the Cat erupted with woofs, shrieks, and cries of all sorts.
The audience participation spilled over into Dawson’s performance of “Loose Lips,” when she invited people to come up on stage and perform interpretive dance. More people joined the stage throughout the song, dancing and shaking. The song ended with a group hug between the audience members on stage and Dawson.
In addition to more well-known songs, Dawson added a few from her new album, Thunder Thighs. She sang of a brush with death and coping with the untimely deaths of some of her friends in the poignant and moving “Walk Like Thunder,” which she described as “one of the hardest songs [she's] ever had to write.”
The last song of the night was “Same Shit,” also from Thunder Thighs, after which she organized the crowd into a circle—pushing aside the tables and chairs to clear a space at the center of the room—and told them to hold hands. She broke the circle, grabbed someone’s hand, and started turning in circles, wrapping everyone around her in the process. Once the entire crowd had pulled together in a ball around Dawson, she asked for another moment of silence for Troy Davis.
After the show, Dawson stayed for a bit, hugging audience members and signing their shirts and CDs. She was unable to give an interview as she was heading to Cleveland to attend a concert by the hip-hop duo Black Star. After leaving Oberlin, Dawson plans to continue her tour with indie hip-hop act Aesop Rock. Thunder Thighs, which features Aesop Rock and many other artists in collaboration with Dawson, will be released on October 25.