Trixie Whitley could be excused if she were tempted to insert any pretense into her solo set Thursday night at Hotel Cafe. She’s the daughter of the late Chris Whitley, who was beloved within the music industry. She’s bandmates with Daniel Lanois, who produced U2’s best work. But instead she took the stage with no pretense at all, simply sitting down at the piano and launching into a long instrumental solo as if designed to demonstrate just how much she loves playing the instrument.
The vocals came eventually, and boy did they ever. Thick, soulful, and without trying to be, commanding. There’s a focused intensity to her live performance that draws people in, bringing the sometimes chatty music club to an eerie silence during her entire performance. The drum kit permanently set up on stage at the venue sat empty. There were no backing musicians. Guitar only entered the picture when, after a time at the piano, she picked up an electric guitar herself. The music shifted gears, but the vocals remained haunting.
Partway through the set she revealed that this was her first live gig in some time, as she’d given birth three and a half months earlier. Some of the new songs were about motherhood, and carried with them a hopeful vulnerability. But the evening wasn’t all earnestness. “I recently learned that I have ADHD,” she declared at one point, then proceeded to perform a slow song which she said was intended to fight against that tendency. It was so new that she was still reading some of the music from a piece of notebook paper, and after being unable to get it to stand up properly on the piano shelf, had some fun with the audience as she moved it from the shelf to her lap and back to the shelf.
Near the end of her set Trixie Whitley admitted that she was “feeling vulnerable, but in a good way.” If anything it may have been the rapt audience who was left more vulnerable to her whim. With her album Fourth Corner having been released more than two years ago, and a number of new songs on display this night, it’s clear that the next album is well on its way even as it’s seemingly still being crafted. Who knows just how much longer fans will have to wait for it, but the evening’s performance was a tantalizing preview.