The last time I saw Aja Volkman and Ray Little together, they were fronting their respective bands Nico Vega and Queen Caveat at a show at The Roxy in 2014. Wednesday night at The Echo, the two spread their wings in debuting their respective solo projects.
I got in around 9:30 and caught the tail end of opening act GROZ’s set, which included a killer cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” and some memorable original songs of hers. One song titled “Save Me” saw her use some live looping to make her own backup vocals. It was a great way to start the night. Taryn Lounsbury was great on keyboards.
Up next was Volkman – who I first discovered with Nico Vega at Life is Beautiful in Las Vegas. Her band had this sort-of Jack White-ness to them and I always dug it. I was curious to hear what her solo work would sound like. Volkman took a seat on stage with an acoustic guitar — barefoot and pregnant with twins.
You could tell there were some nerves – she noted it was her first show of any kind in a couple of years. The first line of the opener “Whale Song” saw Volkman’s vocals crack a bit – but she cracked a smile and was off to the races after that. Her next song – titled “Husband” – saw her deliver a sort of Janis Joplin-like delivery of a song about her husband always being gone. Her husband is Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds, so it’s clearly an autobiographical tune.
All of the songs from her set seemed to be deeply personal. The highlight was probably “Disappear,” a song that she said was about a friend who was diagnosed with a terminal illness that she has far outlived. It was a very touching tribute to her friend and proves just how strong of a songwriter Aja Volkman is. Another strong song from the set was “Skeletons” – these tunes had me searching for studio copies to listen to, and now I am hotly anticipating the solo record I hope we get to hear this year.
Headlining the show was Lauren Little, under the name of her father Ray Little. Showcasing much of the same energy that made me quickly become a fan of hers with Queen Caveat, Little jumped around the stage and leaned into the crowd to deliver her powerful rocking vocals.
Little was accompanied on stage by GROZ for much of the set – who delivered backup vocals, and Lounsbury on cello. A standout song was when Little and GROZ played what was two of their songs about horses combined into one. It was very fluid. Another highlight was the original Ray Little joining her on stage for a duet on the piano.
The real surprise came at the end of the night when Little brought out all of the night’s performers to play Nico Vega’s “Protest Song.”
“People don’t talk / If you have a voice keep it to yourself / No! This is the land of America / The land of the free, the land of the free, the land of the free.” It was a perfect way to end the night a week before we inaugurate the orange-bodied monster.
If both Aja Volkman and Ray Little were out to prove they could stand on their own, mission accomplished. Keep a look out for releases from them in 2017.
Photos courtesy of Silver DeStouet