Chappell Roan invokes thoughts of the 1990s and more than holds her own

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

When singer Chappell Roan paused her set of original songs at the Space Ballroom in Hamden Feb. 18 for to pay tribute to the late Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries, the selection seemed ever so apropos.

The Cranberries and O’Riordan rose in the 1990s where women started to find a voice that was not defined by the men behind the scenes. The 1990s, thanks to women-centric tours like the Lilith Fair, found women exhibiting their skills as songwriters and poets. And they wrote from the point of view of being a woman. It was a time where women musicians were allowed to act their age and not become a sexualized stereotype of girl waiting for a man to rescue them.

And musically, the 1990s were a time where female songwriters felt free to be complex, forward thinking and edgy.

Sometimes, especially for a young artist, a cover song might make for an embarrassing comparison between their work and the classic song they attempt. But Roan did not suffer by comparison to the classic Cranberries’ song, “Dreams.” The musical detour fit in nicely with her own self-penned set.

Songs like “Die Young,” “Bad for You,” and “School Nights” are clearly written by someone just a few years out of high school. But the observations are mature and thoughtful—and poetic.

Just like her 1990s’ forebears.

Sometimes, when you see a young artist perform live, you brace yourself for the show to be a pale imitation of their recordings. In the studio, there is a tendency to fatten up the sound of an artist to the point where it is not reproducible on stage—especially by a single microphone accompanied by a small ensemble in a club setting. Voices typically suffer as today’s singers are sent out on the road without the blessing of Autotune.

But Roan’s voice was polished and strong. The voice on the recordings was the voice on the stage. In fact, one could say that live, her voice was even stronger.

As a stage presence, Roan also had a mystical and entrancing approach to singing. Again, the 1990s comparisons were clear as she reminded me of artists such as Tori Amos and Sarah McLaughlan, who were known for a soft, languid feminine touch, yet who had a big impact in the spotlight.

Although the crowd at the Space Ballroom in Hamden on Feb. 18 were clearly there to see headliner Declan McKenna, Roan immediately grabbed their attention and held it for her entire set.

This time around Roan is an opener. However, I’m going to project that she will be headlining soon enough. Right now, she is touring behind just an EP, “School Nights” that fans are just beginning to discover.

Once Roan has a full-length album out and has a larger public presence, she has the potential of becoming the next big thing.

I give Chappell Roan’s performance at the Space Ballroom in Hamden on Feb. 18 four out of four stars.

Chappell Roan performed at The Space Ballroom in Hamden, Conn. on Feb. 18.