Pop Notes: Singer/Songwriter Chrysta Bell Delivers an Intimate Lynchian Performance at Top of the Standard
By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, February 14, 2017
The connection for singer/songwriter/ingénue Chrysta Bell’s burgeoning career is her sometime collaborator and muse, director David Lynch. With Lynch revisiting his mysterious, unsettling, supernatural and cheeky Twin Peaks TV project on May 21 on Showtime (the original groundbreaking series ran for two seasons and ended in 1991, with a couple of follow-up films in the mix), Bell will help to supply some of the moody, dreamscape music among other pop world stars such as original series crooner Julee Cruise, singer/actress/model Sky Ferreira and, surprise, industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails. Bell’s music—soul-meets-pop, shaded with the jazz chanteuse vibe—is not extraordinary, but she does deliver her tunes with a brooding quality served up with a theatrical snarl of her lip and a sexy catchiness adorned in slithering darkness. That’s the alluring hook that has the Lynchian approach.
In anticipation of the new series as well as her We Dissolve upcoming album (her second) that she’s recording this month in Bristol, UK, Bell (Chrysta Bell is actually her full first name, Zucht her last name) performed an intimate eight-song set on Monday, February 6 at the hip millennial hang, Top of the Standard, high atop the former Meatpacking District, now best known for the intersecting Highline. The space is on the high-ceiling 18th floor with 360 degree views of lower Manhattan and with a circular art deco lit bar that looks like a giant golden flower in the middle. Hardly the suspect, dank, low-ceiling roadhouses of Lynch’s décor.
Dressed elegantly in a tight-fitting black dress, Bell took the stage with her small band of guitarist Sean Eden (reading from the charts in front of him) and bassist Jennifer Fraser, who quietly and emotionless grooved on the side for the rhythmic support. A few songs into the set, Bell introduced Stuart Matthewman who colored the tunes with his tenor saxophone, sometimes mirroring the singer’s voice, other times embellishing it.
The trio opened with the captivating, gently rhythmic “Night Ride,” smudged with computer-generated atmospheric electronics and fired by hard-edged guitar electricity while Bell soared above with her deliciously eerie vocals singing about “going to get you in the back seat.” You get the lure and the charm. By the time Bell launched into the emotive “All This Thing” with a foreboding but nonetheless fun delivery, Matthewman had joined the band—the first time the ensemble had ever played together—and gave it its textural fulfillment. The architecture of the relatively simple pop quality of the music somehow became complete. Bell strapped on her white Les Paul Gibson solid-body guitar for her new song, “If There’s a Devil Deep Inside,” attempting to create a chordal, longing dystopian effect. But the deep mood was suddenly broken when Bell stopped the song, laughed and then told the soundboard runner, “OK, let’s try this again with the guitar this time.” So it goes when the room and the music is new.
Bell made amends with another new tune, “Gravity,” that slightly rocked with a sense of allure and a catchy beat, then followed with the thumping beat “Somewhere in the Nowhere” with Bell singing poetry and Eden cooking up bright vibrato guitar licks. After the tune slowed and disappeared into the “nowhere,” Bell and co. finished off the short set with another dark tune, “Swing With Me,” with Bell’s bluesy growl featured.
All together a B performance for the singer/songwriter who has an auspicious future. Stay tuned.
Cover: Chrysta Bell; photo: David Lynch