Show review: NEeMA and The Chapin Sisters at the Dakota Jazz Club

Sally Hedberg

When offered the chance to review a folk show at the Dakota Jazz Club I have to be honest, my expectations weren’t exactly sky-high. Cynic tendencies took reign and I found my brain zeroing in on negatives.

“The Dakota’s a club for the upwardly mobile,” said a pouty Sally to herself. “Surely no place for a cash-strapped undergrad that not infrequently pays for her nicotine addiction with quarters.”

Plus, being such a sucker for loud guitar and abrasive stage presence, I was worried about my ability to enjoy something so docile, especially on a one-beer budget.

Well, I’m relieved to say that I was sorely mistaken because both NEeMA and The Chapin Sisters blasted me and my poor attitude out of the water, providing a night of music that was both truly memorable and truly a surprise.

Canadian songstress NEeMA took the stage first, whispering a breathy greeting to the crowd before opening with a number about her little girl: her dog. A protégé of Leonard Cohen, NEeMA instantly transported the crowd to a completely different era of live music experience, riding on the simplicity of a “girl and her guitar” aesthetic. Her sensual voice incorporated spoken word sensibilities that rang reminiscent of Patti Smith or Joni Mitchell and while the poetry of her lyrics couldn’t quite rival the timeless masters, it was clear that she held a real commitment in attempting to do so. 

A self-labeled hippie of sorts, NEeMA glided through her set interjecting with short anecdotes about her time spent living in the woods, something that I normally would have pegged as tacky and clichéd, but amidst the atmosphere of the performance it helped to provide context for her musical influences.

Her child-like introspection confronted common themes of death, love and being uprooted from home. Sure, we’ve all heard it before. Yet, coming from a performer that carried you to Woodstock, 1969, (at least what I imagine to be) it was anything but dull.

Near the end of her time on the stage, she chose, as many musicians do, to play a cover. The song: “Romeo and Juliet.” This was the only aspect of the entire evening that provoked a “Meh.” With such a classic folk voice I definitely would have appreciated a Patti Smith cover more but, in her defense, I guess it served to carry the audience back to the present. In a world that’s jammed with a depressing amount of cloy and redundant solo female acts, (cough, Ingrid Michaelson) NEeMA restores the faith that yes, it can be done right.

Following the Canadian chanteuse was The Chapin Sisters who, unexpectedly, delivered one of the most gripping live performances I’ve ever been privileged to witness. Their starting note, a sprawling harmony, immediately silenced the audience, provoked goose bumps and had every individual utterly transfixed on the stage. To describe the sound of their vocal dynamic I can only really say that it was otherworldly. Their voices meshed in such a transcendent way that regardless of if they were playing an original song or covering Britney Spears, there was a shared meaning that was felt by each person listening. No joke. The soulful sisters made “Toxic” as emotionally loaded as “The Rain Song.” Their interpretation of folk music was one clearly based on extensive knowledge and, combined with their natural skill, they did a damn good job of it. 

As the night closed I was left with the realization that the Dakota is not just for people with deep pockets and active retirement plans. Though I wasn’t able to indulge in the mouth-watering sea bass, I was introduced and thoroughly impressed by two folk outfits that I’ll unquestionably stay tuned in to.