Artist: Vienna Teng
Date: March 8, 2004
Opening Act: Kyler England, Brent Floren
Venue: The Fine Line Music Cafe
City: Minneapolis, MN
Review by [Amy Lotsberg] Producer of Collected Sounds
Vienna opened with “My Medea”. God what a beautiful choice for an opener. It gets everyone in the mood for a night of incredible stuff. This is one of my favorites from the new CD.
Joining her onstage was Marika Hughes on cello and Alan Lin on violin. They both also sang back up for her on some songs. They are really amazing musicians. The strings add a beautiful touch to already gorgeous music and both of their voices blend beautifully with hers. I’m so glad she found them.
She then went into “Gravity”. She said she wrote this song from the perspective of a guy that was dating her roommate. She said that it started out that he was interested in her (Vienna) and when that didn’t work out, he moved onto the roommate. Vienna was not 100% supportive of that so she wrote this to try and get inside his head.
Next up was one of my all time favorites, “Drought”. This song always gives me chills what with the rising and falling of the arrangement and it sounds so amazing with the strings. She said that though the lyrics are vague and you’ll hear things about flowers and snow, it’s really about having writers block.
She then played “The Tower”. She told how this song was about her roommate (the one who was dating the “Gravity” guy) and how it was meant to be about someone who “can’t say no” to people and is always trying to make sure everyone is happy. One reviewer thought it was about a woman who “couldn’t say no” in a different way (wink, wink) and said this song is clearly about a prostitute. She said she didn’t think her friend would like that very much.
The next song, “Hope On Fire”, is one she co-wrote with her producer and drummer. It’s probably her most “rock” –ish song yet. She explained that it is about a “nascent” activist. Someone who got so angry with the way things are that they felt compelled to do something about it. She said as an aside that she’s never really felt that way herself.
The came “Shasta”. It’s about a girl driving home through the mountains, seeing Mount Shasta. She said it’s also a slightly political song and it’s written from the perspective opposite of hers. “So if you agree with the song you’ll probably be angry with me. If you agree with me, you might not like the song” she said.
Her next song was another one where she is sort of playing a character. She wrote it in her former life as a software engineer she said, because you can’t really write about code. In “Homecoming” she tells the story from the perspective of a man driving along a lonely highway. He stops in a diner and meets a waitress who he finds out, grew up in the same town as he, a town far away from where they are now. She mentioned how when she was little and her family would travel she would end up in hotels desperately wanting something to read and all that was there was the bible. So she’d start reading it and get bored, but would always start at the beginning so she figures she’s read the first few pages of Genesis about 16 times. The song ends with the man (Walter?) at the hotel finding the bible in his motel room.
Next was a sort of uncomfortable moment for me, personally. “Say Uncle” has always been one of those songs that is hard for me to listen to. It’s beautiful and I love it, but it’s really hard for me to listen to without crying. So I had to stare off into space and think about other things. I noticed a couple of other people tearing up too. It’s an incredible song; it’s just that I didn’t want to be sobbing in public. I prefer to listen to this one alone (and I don’t even have a personal story to match it, it’s just a heartbreaking song). She said this one hasn’t come out and joined her in awhile. That these songs are all like people who come and go in her life and this one had been away for while so she thought she’d bring him out.
The next song was a real treat. I first became aware of “The Boy with the Piano” when I saw her perform it in California. But since then I’ve heard fans of hers wishing she’d play it and being disappointed when she didn’t. It’s not on either of her CDs so you can only hear it live. The back-story is that she had a crush on a boy in high school that was a musician. He was a very popular kid and she was the geeky kid whom he never paid much attention to. He used to go in to the choir room and play jazz piano and this made her love him even more. So she’d sneak in and listen to him play. She also mentioned that she is currently taking jazz piano lessons.
Someone requested “Enough to Go By” which she happily played. She said she wrote this when she was a software engineer and that it is – on the surface – about a guy who ran away from home but that it was really about her wanting to quit her day job. She did mention that there is a hidden reference to her previous (technical) life in here and that other geeky types might notice it (I always thought I was a geek, but I didn’t get it).
“Unwritten Letter” is one of other all-time favorites. The piano part on here just blows me away and I love the tango-ish style. It is about falling for someone who was ‘of the opposite sexual orientation’. I wrote about this in the last review I did, but she had told me the story over lunch, this time it was on stage.
“Soon Love Soon” is her sing along song. I’m always nervous when she does this one here. The first time I heard this live it was in California and let’s just say Cali’s are a little more outgoing than us “nice” Scandinavians. I saw Dar Williams try a sing-along with us once and she even said that she was told not to even try it in MN. Vienna’s song went over perfectly in California, people even sung in harmony. It was also a really small place with great acoustics so the end result is it sounded like a real choir. It was a beautiful breathtaking moment. Then she did this song last time she was here and played the 400 Bar (a divey little punk bar) and us Minnesotans actually did quite well. But it wasn’t a huge crowd. This time it was a large crowd and I was a little nervous that Minnesota Nice would take over and everyone would just sit there politely…silently smiling at her. But to my surprise I wasn’t the only person singing! People actually did sing along. It sounded really nice; it’s a very heart warming song and sounds lovely when large rooms full of people are singing it together. She encouraged the waving of cell phones (in lieu of lighters) and some actually did it.
“Harbor” – This is her “hit” even though it hasn’t hit radio yet. She’s been on several TV programs lately and this song is the one she’s always played. She said she was determined to write a song that was a little more happy and energetic. She calls this one her “most energetic child”. Much to her delight the label liked it and decided to make it available to radio. I certainly hope it takes off.
She left the stage to thunderous applause and some fans were even standing. She popped back out for one last song. It was “Green Island Serenade” which is the Taiwanese lullaby that is the hidden track on her CD, “Warm Strangers”. It was mesmerizing.
I’m so glad we got to hear her when we did, as I’ve heard that she lost her voice the next day and for her Chicago show was only able to play a few songs. The following day her voice was completely gone, so I feel blessed that our show was when and where it was. She’s truly an incredible talent. As I heard someone say as we were leaving, “If she keeps putting on shows like that she’s going to be very famous, very soon.”