The night opened heartily: a modest, endearing crowd developing among the tables and bar seating. Most fans were ready for – and likely invested in – a nice evening out at Club Cafe. They absolutely got what they came for, but to say just that takes away the wave of energy and emotion drawn from the stage throughout Aoife O’Donovan’s show.
An incredible folk trio out of Boston, Lula Wiles, hit the heartstrings at the start with their tight vocals and gorgeous harmonies. The trio’s earnest demeanor kept the audience at ease while in comfortable awe of the performance. Their homegrown lyrics work as self-reflective poetry.
From song to song, Ellie Buckland, Isa Burke and Mali Obomsawin each took a turn telling her story. Meanwhile, each member played on at least two different instruments throughout the set. Seamlessly, and with the same expressiveness and control, everyone in Lula Wiles was a frontwoman and a songbird. They described a specific part of the show as the “feelings heavy” part, but the entirety of the performance had those heavy feels, so to speak.
The feelings took a halt for a second with Aoife O’Donovan, who started her show off with twisting guitar lines and a quick, full melody. Her trio, comprised of guitarist Anthony Da Costa and drummer Steve Nistor, brought a completely new life to what was once a folk night. O’Donovan’s voice floated over the music with power and grace, skillfully weaving through the energy behind her.
Da Costa accompanied with bright chord chops and slow sweeps to surround Aoife’s sound. His solos were tasteful and his perpetually-changing tone was always just right for the song at hand. Nistor’s tumbling drums propelled the tunes. The overall combination of musicians and their abilities filled the sound of the venue perfectly. The trio setting was different from her studio setup, but in a manner that was both likeable and completely approachable.
There needed to be special attention given to Aoife O’Donovan’s mastery over her voice. The silk of her voice was paralyzing, almost magical. The few moments when she really belted a lyric were powerful, without losing a second of beauty. It was not at all overwhelming, but could be felt truly. She sang so well and at home when she paid homage to her Irish roots. She was almost aggressively perfect as a vocalist, in a way that would give angels a run for their money.
O’Donovan, alongside Da Costa, put on a great show of banter throughout the evening. Their stories began about meats, where O’Donovan casually repeated the phrase “all the meats” in praise of their dinner spot earlier that night in Lawrenceville. Eventually, the topic moved to the all-important Pittsburgh tourist staple, Primanti Bros. At this, banter with the audience turned into a full-on conversation and a quick excerpt from “Fiddler on the Roof.” It was thoroughly entertaining, with honest joy and laughter coming from the whole of the audience at Club Cafe.