On Saturday, March 11, 2023 the Elsinore theater in Salem, Oregon presented “Encore” a concert for arts and culture supporting the “Salem Art Association” and “World Beat.” The show included Jan Michael Looking Wolf and Robin Gentlewolf & the “Looking Wolf Band” performing Native American influenced music. Opera soprano Ellie Niver performed II Bacio and Panchanga featured “Lively Afro-Latin rhythms and percussion.” The headliner for the night was “gothic blues rocker” Amythyst Kiah, originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Following a short intermission after the initial three acts concluded their performances Amythyst Kiah and her band comprised of Chris Collier on guitar and vocals, Hunter Mulkey on bass and Austin Drewry on drums and vocals took the stage. Amythyst accompanied herself on an Epiphany SG electric guitar as she belted out some of the most powerful vocals since Tracy Chapman’s debut thirty-five years ago. She began her set with “Black Myself” a song that she wrote for Songs for Our Native Daughters in 2019. The song received a “Grammy” nomination in 2020 for “Best American Roots Song.” The song was delivered as a thunderous guitar driven hard rocking performance with both Kiah and Collier pulling out all the stops as they shredded their axes with ear ringing volume to accompany the powerful lyrics.
“And I’ll stand my ground and smile in your face
‘Cause I’m black myself.”
“Fancy Drones” from Kiah’s most recent album release, 2021’s Wary Strange was beat driven with a staggered rhythm provided by Mulkey and Drewry. Collier and Kiah joined in with supporting rhythm on their guitars as soaring vocals punctuated each verse. “Tender Organs” was also from Wary Strange and began with Amythyst howling:
“Sometimes when I wake up
I feel like, I feel like I’m dying”
The song was more vocally driven and the band followed with a punctuating performance that included solid guitar breaks that followed the lyrics. Vocally dominant, “Opaque” was the third song from Kiah’s 2021 release and is a cantillation about her mother’s tragic suicide by drowning in the Tennessee River when Amythyst was just seventeen. After concluding the fourth song of the set Kiah greeted the audience and told them that this was her first time in Salem, Oregon. She introduced “Empire of Love” as the next song that she co-wrote with singer/songwriter/producer Sean McConnell for her new record. Amythyst rhythmically strummed her guitar and sang as Collier played the response to her vocals with incendiary guitar licks. “Hangover Blues” was another cut from Wary Strange that began with Drewry setting the beat while the rest of the band joined in as Kiah sang:
“And if I did it all over again
I’d do the same damn thing anyhow”
The volume of her powerful vocals grew with every song and the band continued to perform impeccably. “Dollar Bills” was another new song that Kiah co-wrote for the upcoming new album. Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm” from her 2017 Witness album followed. It appeared on Kiah’s 2022 Pensive Pop EP and was a combination of stellar vocals that ascended into the stratosphere accompanied once again by Collier’s precision guitar sonics. “Never Alone” was another new song co-written this time with Mitch Walker followed by “Sugar.” The song is by Tori Amos and appeared on her Little Earthquakes album which inspired Amythyst to be a songwriter that was a guitar playing version of her idol. The song’s performance was a bring down the house hard driving guitar driven excursion with booming vocals.
The final song of the night was “Trouble” a traditional Gospel song that was originally recorded between 1939 and 1942 by Dock and Henry Reed and Vera Hall. Alan Lomax re-recorded Vera Hall singing it for the Sounds of the South album in 1959 and Kiah plaintively sang her own version. It appeared on her 2017 album Her Chest of Glass and the performance was only improved by time along with the kick ass accompaniment of her tight band. After the band took a bow and exited the stage Mosley Wotta the show’s emcee came out, said good night and reminded the crowd that it was a benefit concert.