But brothers and sisters, I was wrong. With her first song, Catherine Feeny’s voice melted my cynical bastardism in the beat of an infarcted heart. Her music cut through the ‘Kafkaesque’ lighting like an aural sculpture, underlined by complex percussion that gave surprising variety to her tiny ensemble. When Jeremy Mage came on stage to man the keyboard, the simple harmonies added something churchy-nigh-spiritual to the mix. The songs ultimately coalesced into a relaxed atmosphere appropriate to a venue called the Living Room.
Stage presence in the NYC folk/antifolk scene is tricky. It’s easy for that initial cynicism to sneak in and slice a line beneath your nipple before you notice, because every folk-inspired musician is so damn intent on proving their authenticity that they convince us otherwise. But there was something wholly raw, unpracticed, and charming in Catherine Feeny’s performance. Her clumsy banter with Jeremy Mage, her tentative calls for a sing-along, her speech peppered with verbal tics, it all came together to shower the audience in an aura of sincerity.
What’s my point exactly? Mostly that I’m a cynical bastard, but also that there is nothing ironic or staged at all about Catherine Feeny. She is as awkward as a bad cup of coffee after a one night stand, but that’s exactly what makes you listen to her.
When Feeny asked the sparse audience (promoters would call it intimate) to sing along to her Occupy-inspired ballad, I smirked like a character in a Jane Austen novel. But suddenly I was singing, and the flattened, mismatched tones of the crowd provided an appropriately communal backdrop to the chanting strangeness of her voice. For a split-second, as cheesy as it sounds (and that, I guess, is the point), the audience was in it together, listening as a community.
Watching Catherine Feeny live was an exercise in overcoming irony, and fuck it, I got into it.