I trust that you, the conscientious reader, are by now familiar with the music of (or at least the name) Natalie Prass. This almost certainly was not always the case, judging by the mutual connections I’ve met in town who excitedly talk about growing up around her/going to school with her/touring with her as her opening act. Most of the stories that I’ve heard from these people indicate that Natalie Prass, the inarguable indie blog hype darling of 2015, has long been hard at work on turning her vision into a reality. This past Wednesday, playing to a sold-out High Watt crowd, Prass confirmed that this new reality was both justified and deserved.
I arrived at the venue well before the opening act took the stage. Having known that this show had reached ticketing capacity about a month prior, I figured that the relatively small space at The High Watt would turn claustrophobic pretty quickly. Luckily this was not the case, the prudent bartender having observed that this was one of those nights where the perpetually procrastinating Nashville crowds would file in all at once, creating the kind of logjam typical of a city where there’s always something else going down. Hell, I myself was missing The Antlers (one of my favorite bands of all time) open for dad rock assimilators Death Cab For Cutie a few blocks away at The Ryman. However, as the pre-opener period quickly progressed, I observed on my own that the ticket-buying masses were making a point of getting to this show on time. Chalk it up to the anticipation of her major homecoming or to the fact that her guestlist was accounted for to the point that I found out just hours before that I would be able to get on it, but it seemed that Natalie Prass had affected some positive change in the normally lackadaisical Nashville scene.
Aforementioned opening act Out of Place was an anachronistic choice befitting of their name. Playing a set of ‘90s-indebted underground hip-hop, the duo (one MC, one DJ) made good on the opportunity to spread their music to a half-full room that would have likely otherwise been in the dark about their output. To most of the patrons, it probably didn’t make sense how (in a city full of potentially more appropriate choices) these guys got the call to play such a high-profile gig. However, once everyone realized that Prass herself was in a similar position just 24 hours prior during her opening gig for alt-country demigod Ryan Adams at The Ryman, the reception rapidly shifted from confused to hospitable.
That hospitality morphed into a feverish welcoming once Prass and her backing band (consisting of her debut record’s co-producer Trey Pollard on lead guitar, Michael Libramento on bass, Scott Clark on drums and a trio of local musicians joining in as a one-off horns section) made their way to the stage. I’m not sure what I was expecting going in, thinking that I could have lapsed into cynicism if I noticed that much of the crowd simply wanted to try and catch “the next big thing” just so they could claim they were there from the beginning, but it became apparent from the first lyrics of opening song “Your Fool” that Prass was already a figure of adoration, one that would continue to harness audience empathy in turning in an emphatic performance that surely won over anyone that might have been attending under false pretenses.
If there’s one thing that a gig with this high of a profile might have been lacking, it was depth. That is no fault of Prass herself, considered that she’s only got one (incredible) album to work with. She’s simply in the awkward stage where the hype has superseded the amount of material available to justify it. While she padded her set with a soulful medley in which she covered R&B forebears Anita Baker and Janet Jackson, the setlist drew exclusively from her self-titled debut record, a record that (lest we forget) is only three months old.
Since the release of Natalie Prass, she has won the favor of nearly every major influential music outlet and staked her claim at SXSW, toured overseas with Ryan Adams and performed on BBC. She’s going to continue moving for much of the summer, having booked her own headlining gigs in the UK and a tour route of the States that will at some point land her in Chicago for Pitchfork’s annual music festival.
Prass acknowledged her massive transformation from well-guarded secret to critical darling a few times throughout the night. Before a mid-set rendition of album closer “It Is You”, she playfully remarked that “this is the Disney princess song”, a reference to her incredible accomplishment of getting a majority of the (usually disparate) music media to finally agree on something. She also provided the anecdote that the first time she performed that song was at the long defunct Steve’s Bar & Grill (or as she called it, “Steve’s Steakhouse”) in East Nashville. Speaking of East Nashville, Prass remarked that the album’s best slow burn (“Christy”) found its inception on one of the many porches in the neighborhood, a part of town that is eternally hard at work in containing all the potential next Natalie Prasses (Prassi?). She also made reference to the presumably mind-numbing rigor of her curriculum at MTSU, stating that she wrote one of her best songs (“Violently”) while “spacing out in class.” If only we could all turn our daydreams into swoon-worthy masterworks of pop music.
While most of these songs only saw the light upon the release of her record, she made sure that the audience also knew that much of what she was playing was material that was “tracked almost three years ago”, a statement that I took as a hint that there might be new jams (another note: Prass’s band was excellent at fleshing out the ornate orchestral arrangements of the album into upbeat, groovy live versions) in the pipeline. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if encore song “Jass” (performed while Prass held a Godzilla action figure through its entirety) was one such new jam or a throwaway track from the debut’s sessions. All I know is that it sounded fantastic, and that Nashville is lucky to be able to stake a claim on a musician that has already shattered the ceiling on her way to the stratosphere.
Words by Kevin Brown /// Pictures by Jake Giles-Netter