I have one foot out the door. "Don't go," a woman in the back of the lounge says, "She's awesome." Then a steamy voice arises from the crowd. I swim through the bodies until I come to a dark violet figure, the space around her inhabited by a sea of mesmerized faces. "Awesome" is a word I've heard too many times to be able to use it to describe the new way I am struck by Krystle Warren. She doesn't scare me with her skill or shake me with her song. Instead, her husky voice just seeps in, while the subtly electrifying reverberations stir me, like an underground current.
She is slender and tough, with her pelvis tilted back behind the guitar. Completely absorbed, she shrugs off a glass of water between songs; "I'm allergic to water." Her straightforward, focused masculine confidence is overshadowed by her womanly silhouette as she sings of throbbing vulnerability: "Too young to know, too shy to ask. So we lay in the bed with the thoughts in our head..." Her chin perks and her head shimmies with the high notes. Her right arm chugs the guitar like the side rods on a train, and her left foot stomps out an imaginary cigarette; a ricochet of her melodies. Her face cringes into the grimace of a crazed cry. I almost cry with her, my stomach cracking with the tug of her chords, until I see her mouth explode into a wide, toothy grin. She closes her eyes and bites the air with a scintillating high note.
"My third love," she sings, her voice like a bear humming from deep in a cave. Wait. Didn't she mean "my first love?" No, she repeats it again and again: "My third love. My third love. My third love." But it doesn't matter, because no matter what number this love is, it can still be disappointing. Falling in love has an overarching daze of enchantment to it, but on a day-to-day reality, intimacy is about quirks and compatibility. I hear this as Warren's voice slips and slides into the sorrow: "My third love was never loving."
Krystle Warren resists being categorized with other famous black female artists. Her voice is sandier and feistier than Chapman's. She is more hollow and more bass than Hill. And unlike Nina Simone, she is giddily soulful, as she finishes "My Third Love" and tells us, "That was the angriest song here tonight, all the rest are very happy."
Krystle Warren is a preacher, even though she hasn't started a church yet. Her verse digs into the gut and then tapers off with a wispy, feminine breath. Some sit on the floor wearing wide grins, others bounce their knees from the stools at the bar. She raises a smooth arm and delicate hand to beckon the audience. She scats that she refuses to end her song until we are all singing with her. She invokes love. A roomful of strangers in Amnesia Lounge shyly declares that there is love out there and we will find it.
Krystle Warren plays The Great American Music Hall August 24 & 25, 2008. For more information visit Warren's profile on myspace.com.