R’n’B isn’t normally my thing, so of course I felt completely out of place when I showed up to Pittsburgh’s Very Own 2 on August 10th at Mr. Smalls in time for the closing act: INEZ.
This was a very special show for the ‘Burgh. Pittsburgh is not a town known for it’s female R’n’B stars, but after this phenomenal showing by some of the hottest talent in the city, that needs to change.
That out of place feeling to which I referred earlier soon dissipated as I immediately got lost in the music.
From the first moment INEZ entered from stage right in a sleek black gown, you could tell that this young woman owned the stage and had the audience wrapped around her finger.
The first song INEZ performed was her rendition of “Crazy” by the duo Gnarls Barkley. I’ve long been an admirer of the torch singers of the Roaring 20s and the 30s and I was not disappointed. For a moment, I forgot where I really was and got lost in the soulful musings of a siren from the days of yore.
For one so young, the sheer power and soul that came through her voice created a presence that almost transcended the mortal world.
I’ll admit that I had to actually look up and listen to the original version of “Crazy”. I will also freely admit that I much preferred INEZ’s version.
During a brief outfit change, DJ Femi took center stage to keep the audience hopping. And keep us hopping, she did. There was an electricity that seemed to permeate the room, and it was emanating from DJ Femi.
INEZ came back on stage in a T-Shirt and bike shorts. Tie-dyed bike shorts, of course. She launched into her first original of the night, “Get It Off Your Chest”. If the knob was already at 11 during “Crazy”, this turned the knob up to 12. Once again owning the stage, INEZ poured every ounce of herself into this song.
The lyrics were poignant and crisp. I was amazed at how clearly I could hear every word and each syllable wrapped inside the rhyming rhythms.
It was also right around this point that I realized how amazing her band was. As with all truly excellent musicians, they all strutted their stuff always leaving enough room for each other and the vocals.
The band was tight. Really tight. Professional touring band kind of tight. It was because of how incredibly tight they were that I almost didn’t notice them. Yes, that is a compliment. A really big one.
“Clouds” was the third song in the set. INEZ performed this song with Clara Kent. I really don’t know what to say about this song. I was lucky enough to hear the studio version of this a few weeks before the show, and as impressed as I was when I heard it back then, the live version was even more astonishing.
Imagine, if you will, a glorious moment where Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday take to the stage together to sing one song. Yes. This was that good. The two sultry sirens complemented each other perfectly. Clara’s darker voice reminded me more of Billie, while the smooth silkiness emanating from INEZ reminded me of Ella.
Despite their jazzy approach, there was enough raw power on that stage to keep the lights on in the entire city of Pittsburgh for a week.
For the next song, “Pardon Me”, bassist Mike Mitchell took charge and laid down the groove. INEZ described this song as tongue-in-cheek. She was right. Halfway through the song, I realized that I’d been smiling through the whole time she’d been singing it.
And then, for no other reason than she could, INEZ decided to hop behind the drum kit. I should probably mention at this point that I was jealous. Not only is INEZ a top-notch singer, she is an amazing audio engineer and a very solid drummer. Really, Pittsburgh, you’ve got a gem hiding here.
With Beyonce’s cover of Frankie Beverly’s “Before I Let Go” being played by DJ Femi, INEZ cut loose on the skins. I’ve seen many drum solos before and most of them fail to hold my attention. I’m much more into melodic solos. This drum solo held my attention.
Her technique was nearly flawless as was her sense of rhythm. What really grabbed me was INEZ’s sense of musicality. There seem to be few drummers in the world with a sense of musicality. “Musicality” in the sense that a songwriter or an instrumentalist who plays a pitched instrument would approach a song.
The fact that INEZ sings and produces affects her drumming in all the right ways. It was flashy enough to prove that the girl can play, yet tasteful and respectful enough to accent the music to which she played.
“Don’t Stop” was the penultimate offering of the evening. A little more laid back than the rest of the evening, but every bit as emotional. Possibly even more. That knob may have been up to about 18 by this point.
The energy just did not let up.
For the last song, “I Don’t Need You”, INEZ brought Simone Davis back to the stage for a duet. If “Clouds” with Clara Kent reminded me of Billie and Ella, this was more like Ella and Diana Ross. I was overwhelmed at the amount of sheer vocal prowess on the stage.
Simone had been on stage just prior to INEZ taking over and I was impressed with her on her own set.
Both of these talented young ladies together was nothing short of amazing. I was transfixed from the first note to the last.
At the end of the show, all of the ladies from the evening, Sierra Sellers, Leila Rhodes, Simone Davis and Clara Kent all got on stage and did one hell of an encore. They all sang “Happy Birthday” to INEZ whose birthday was the day prior.
There are several things that I took away from this show. First, Pittsburgh – what are you thinking? You have so much talent in this city and you’re not showing it off. I’m in the rock and metal scenes and there are enough hidden gems in those genres, but these ladies doing R’n’B is something special. You have no idea what you’re hiding, Pittsburgh.
On this bill, there were no openers and there were no headliners. There were friends supporting each other and holding each other up. There was an audience that was among the most respectful I’ve ever seen. No talking while the music was going. No throngs of people streaming out of the venue as soon as “their” band was done.
This was indeed a very special night.
INEZ’s band: Mike Mitchell – Bass, Joshua Rouse – Keys, Carvis Fisher IV – Drums, Isaiah Blue – Guitar, Greg Rouse – Engineer, DJ Femi – DJ
Photo credits: Erin Allport