Sometimes first shows go off without a hitch and, in the process, seem a little robotic and overplanned.
And other times, they’re endearingly loose, with a feeling of spontaneity and communal support.
Susanna Hoffs visited Eddie’s Attic on Monday for the first date of an 11-stop solo tour to support her splendid, ’60s-influenced album “Someday,” released this summer.
In a conversation last week, Hoffs admitted to feeling a bit nervous whenever she goes onstage without her longtime Bangles mates or frequent collaborator Matthew Sweet. On Monday, though, Hoffs didn’t seem nervous so much as wanting to get things right – the proper sound levels, the correct tuning on her guitar, the right feel to a song (she restarted the album’s single, “Picture Me” after the first verse because it didn’t sound quite right to her).
With some artists, this might come off as unprofessional or irritating, watching a band fiddle around for a few moments between songs or a singer double check the lyrics of a song with her drummer.
But Hoffs is so self-deprecating and, well, adorable, even at (unbelievably) 53, that her 90-minute set felt like a comfortable gathering in a living room (or, as she joked, one “with a giant bar in the middle of it”).
She and her wonderful five-piece band – drummer Jim Laspesa, bassist Derrick Anderson, percussionist John Calacci and droll sidekick/guitarist Andrew Brassell, with whom she wrote most of the songs on “Someday” – performed most of the tracks from the album, her third solo release and first since 1996.
But neither Bangles fans nor followers of her work with Sweet had reason to be disappointed, as she squeezed a lot of catalog into her 90-minute set.
Clad in a denim shirt with rolled-up sleeves, a short skirt and tights, Hoffs frequently addressed the audience with a humble and grateful air.
“Since it’s the first show, I don’t have my stories ready yet,” she joked. “But you can ask me questions while I tune my guitar.”
Some in the SRO audience took her up on her offer later in the show, asking an inordinate number of questions relating to “Austin Powers” (her husband, Jay Roach, directed the films and Hoffs appeared in the first one as part of the fake band, Ming Tea), which Hoffs gamely fielded.
But charming as she was as a person, Hoffs also excelled vocally and musically.
The pretty chord progressions of “November Sun” paired beautifully with her sweet, clear vocals on “Raining.” She also dispatched The Song early in the set, quietly rolling into “Manic Monday” (amusingly outfitted with a snippet of “Manic” songwriter Prince’s “Little Red Corvette”).
In a setting such as Eddie’s, there is no place for processed vocals or super-layered songs and Hoffs delivered, relying on the strength of her vibrato for “Picture Me,” a bouncy little piece of musical sunshine, and leaning wearily into “Willin’,” a song she and Sweet covered for volume two of their “Under the Covers” series.
A cool, groove-filled “Walk Like an Egyptian” was sandwiched inside the Bangles’ “Under a Cloud,” while “Eternal Flame” was shown to be a song that sounds best when stripped to its core.
Many songs on Hoffs’ latest record evoke early-era Bangles, but none so much as the driving “One Day,” with its awesome key changes and angelic harmonies. Fitting, then, that following it was a full-band jam filled with crisp drumbeats and throbbing bass on “In Your Room” and “Hero Takes a Fall.”
The show’s two-song encore included the Association’s “Never My Love,” which Hoffs said she and the band pegged as their “goodnight” song.
“This is a total experiment,” she said, smiling, before launching into the ballad.
Much like the show, it was a little messy, a little impromptu, but entirely satisfying.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene