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A year with Camera Obscura

One year ago, on Saturday June 6, 2009, I was at my non-local Barnes & Noble perusing some books, when I noticed the music piping in from the store’s sound system.

What struck me instantly was the siren-like quality of the female lead vocals.  Her voice blew me away to the point where I stayed in the store just to keep listening.  The tunes were catchy, melodic and excellently produced.  I went over to the music section and asked an employee whose music was playing.

The voice was of Tracyanne Campbell, lead singer of Camera Obscura and the album I was listening to was My Maudlin Career, their latest album which had just been released about a month earlier.  I had never heard of the group before in my life.

After I got home, I downloaded most of Maudlin from iTunes and, within 2-3 days I had purchased other songs.

I tend to dichotomize my life into categories based on the music I’m listening to, and 2009 (or most of it anyway) was the year of Camera Obscura.  As of today, their music holds a regular place in my iPod rotation.

As I said, it was Campbell’s voice that first caught my attention.  With a Scottish accent easily identifiable the more you listen, its soothes the soul.  And then there’s the music.  From Maudlin, the song “Honey In The Sun” is probably the most perfect pop song I’ve ever heard (this is coming from a die-hard Beatles fan).   Songs from previous albums are well-known to Obscura fans (as I discovered) like “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken” and “If Looks Could Kill”, both again, are excellent pop tunes with great vocals.

One of their first albums has the nugget “Shine Like a New Pin”, another tune that I often find myself replaying several times on my iPod.

To make a long story short, I’ve become a Camera Obscura fan.

It’s worth noting that I’m a big music fan, but I’m not fond of concerts.  I’ve been to several, but when I’m into an artist’s music, I don’t necessarily have to see them live.

As you can guess, such is not the case with Obscura.  Over the past several months, I found myself checking their website to see if they were going to be in my area.

It turns out, they were going to be in NYC to play at the Grand Ballroom last night.  Prior commitments kept me from attending that show.

But then I find out about the Brooklyn Flea, the weekend flea market in Williamsburg.  I found out that the band would be playing a free short set in the vault of the old Williamsburg Savings Bank building, where the market is usually held.

Not being a fan of going into NYC on a humid and muggy day in June, I decided almost instantly to make this trip.  I had to see this band live.

The show was this past Sunday, June 6, 2010.

Upon entering the building and immediately to our left, were the stairs down to the vault.  There was an enormous amount of people, packed like sardines from the basement to the top of the stairway.  My anxiety started acting up.

After an approximately 10 minute wait, the line started moving.  I snapped this picture going down the stairway, towards the entrance of the vault (I was being pushed and shoved, so a clear picture didn’t materialize):

I’d say there was about 400 people crammed into the vault of a less-than-air-conditioned bank building, on a muggy day.  After about a 10 minute wait for sound check, and the show was on:

Sure it was hot.  Sure the people around me had various smells.  And I wouldn’t call a 400 people show “intimate”, but it beat any stadium show I’d ever seen.  It beats Bon Jovi at an 80,000 seat arena.  Hell, Camera Obscura can play with the best of whatever radio stations consider “music” today.

A splendid time was had by all.  I know I did.  I even got to meet the Tracyanne herself:

She was surprisingly pleasant, very polite and apologetic that Camera Obscura was not able to play more shows in the area.  I told her what a pleasure it was to hear their music and how their enjoyment came through in their music.  She happily posed for pictures and signed autographs for the fans that greeted her after the show.

And it all happened exactly one year from the day that I had first heard their music in that bookstore.

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