DeenaOH herself is Deena Odelle Hyatt, a bluesy chanteuse who makes a living curating and supporting art around DC. She was opening as DeenaOH & Co. for folk singer Marian McLaughlin’s debut album release last week to a crowded room at DC9. The experimental nature of DeenaOH’s collective became clear when I counted nine musicians, including Ms. McLaughlin, contributing various vocals or instruments to the short set of songs, leaping on and off stage as required.
The songs hung together well in the amber of Ms. Hyatt’s bluesy, forlorn voice. The romantic “Moon Song” called for unconditional love over a calypso beat. Hyatt has a pleasing range, and she rolls through “Moon Song” with the cute trick of echoing herself in words extended like with “together, …together, …together.” Like all unrequited love affairs, the song ends abruptly! But the room fell into a hushed silence simply at the sound of her voice.
The standout song, “Mobius Strip Tease,” highlights a taste for clever wordplay, subversion of standard songwriting techniques like repetition, and a knack for unexpected twists.
Hyatt says of the song on YouTube, “I started writing this song while reading ‘The Book’ by Alan Watts and finished it while reading ‘The Body Artist’ by Don Delillo. The first time I performed it live was a cappella with a drum machine, this live version is the first time with a band.”
Her pride in how the song came out is well justified, particularly with the standout contribution of Peter Fox on baritone guitar. If a song title like “Mobius Strip Tease” sounds pleasantly obscure and frankly adult, it successfully captures the feel of the entire act. This isn’t music for kids.
To punctuate that point, DeenaOH & Co. have a performance of “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley that takes a stab at making the song even sadder than it is. It’s a smoldering deconstruction of the original, emphasizing the loneliness of the singer in the chorus. While it may at times sound a bit cutesy, the darkness in Hyatt’s husky voice keeps it from becoming too syrupy.
The logistics of shuffling so many backing musicians on and off the stage didn’t always go as smoothly or as quickly as you might like–but given that this was only the second performance by the group, they have plenty of time to work out the kinks. Still, the singer and contributors alike brought plenty of charm and gusto to the performance, leaving the audience generous enough to overlook such details.
Make a date with Dates next time they step up to the stage.