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Review: Sipping a Jeebus with two L.A. women at Sacred Grounds



(This is the 43rd entry in Soundcheck's summer concert series, The 50-50 Club. For previous entries, click here.)

Coffee sounded good Wednesday night, what with the sky above Tampa turning all shades of charcoal, and rain pouring down as it did on Noah's 40th night. Coffee sounded damn near fantastic.

So I headed to Tampa's favorite independent coffeeshop, Sacred Grounds, a college-kid favorite near the University of South Florida, where the political views lean heavily to the left, and the music leans heavily toward the what-the-folk.

Wednesday's enterainment was a pair of singer-songwriters from Los Angeles, Amanda Abizaid and Stephanie Erdel, who are playing coffeeshops around the East Coast on what they're calling the L.A. Woman Summer Tour. The night before, they were at the Witch's Brew in Palm Harbor.

The music was good. And so was the coffee.

Let's start with the joe. Sacred Grounds has a massive list of colorfully named drinks that offer more combinations of amaretto, caramel and hazelnut than I think are mathematically possible. I ordered something called a "Jeebus," which contained chocolate, hazelnut, caramel and whipped cream*. It cost an astonishing $6.60, and took an astonishing 10-15 minutes to make ... but man, was it tasty. Sweet, but tasty.

The shop itself is a perfect repository from the stress of college life: Giant fishtanks, board games, thrift-store couches, decor that ranges from the Eastern to the tye-dyed. During the concert, a group of college-age-looking kids had a potluck dinner in a private room. A potluck!

But if you happen to be a member of the Young Republicans, you might want to drive on to Starbucks.

I'm not saying Sacred Grounds wouldn't welcome in young conservatives, but the shopkeeps definitely let you know where their political allegiances lie. The refrigerators behind the bar are covered in bumper stickers, most of them leftist or feminist in nature. Some favorites:

"Democrats are sexy! Whoever heard of a good piece of elephant?"

"Of course it hurts -- you're getting screwed by an elephant."

"Sorry I missed church, I've been busy practicing witchcraft an becoming a lesbian."

"Who would Jesus bomb?"

"Eve was framed."

With its popular open-mic night, one might expect Sacred Grounds to attract more than a few Lilith Fair-inspired singer-songwriters to its stage. This was the case with Abizaid and Erdel.

I admire the duo's bravado. The American romantic in me thinks it would be fun to travel the country, visiting strange cities, sleeping on couches, playing acoustic sets in unique coffeeshops night after night. On the other hand, playing for tips can't be that great, not when your biggest perk as a performer is a dollar off your dinner bill for the night.

But Abizaid and Erdel seemed more than game for it. I give them credit for giving their tour such a grandiose name ("The L.A. Woman Summer Tour"), even going so far as to launch a Web site devoted to the trek, when it's really just the two of them -- and neither is what you'd call a household name.

To the extent that either is nationally known at all, it is for their unique biographies and resumes. Erdel began writing songs after her boyfriend was killed on 9/11 -- she was in lower Manhattan on the day of the attacks -- and as a result, Entertainment Tonight did a piece on her 9/11-inspired debut album, Running From Fear.

The Lebanese-born Abizaid, on the other hand, has provided music and vocals to a number of television shows and commercials, most notably the theme song to the USA Network series The 4400**. She and Erdel split the 1-1/2 hour set in half: Erdel played her songs (mostly on guitar) for the first 45 minutes, and Abizaid played hers (mostly on keyboard) for the final 45 minutes, with each artist backing up the other.

Erdel played first, and she offered up 45 minutes of singalong folk-pop that wouldn't sound out of place at an Indigo Girls concert. Her music was toe-tappingly catchy, and she plunked in a cover of KT Tunstall's Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. Hers was the folksier, more Lilith-oriented half of the show, and it seemed perfectly suited to the venue***.

Abizaid's set had more of an indie-pop flavor, a la Kate Bush, Leona Naess, Chantal Kreviazuk or Tori Amos (especially on Black Ice). My favorite tracks she played were an ethereal track called Win Win Situation and an "Arabic love song," the name of which I did not catch, but it was lovely nonetheless.

So yeah: It was funky, different, forward-thinking music.

Before I left, I dropped $10 into the L.A. Women's tip jar. Seemed like the right thing to do, considering the concert was free, and they were so far from home.

It might not be enough to buy them each a cup of latte at Sacred Grounds, but it might buy them another third of a tank of gas on their way up the road.

Next up in The 50-50 Club: Fiery Furnaces, Aug. 22, the Orpheum, Ybor City.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*.

* As a result, I now have the diabeetus.

** Although I have to say, my favorite factoid on Abizaid's film and TV resume is that she sang vocals that were lip-synched by Ally Sheedy and Charisma Carpenter in the short-lived VH1 series Strange Frequency.

*** Never more so than on an environmental anthem called Touch the Earth, which Erdel joked was about as hipppie-flavored a song as you could imagine. "It's really good for coffeeshops," she laughed.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 3:12pm]


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