In April Smith’s world—an alternate dimension in which the last 60 years of pop music never happened, save for the occasional Led Zeppelin reference—fans of indie rock and Glee are free to commingle. Dressed in an outfit Katy Perry might have abandoned once upon a time, the tiny young singer led her band, the Great Picture Show, through a series of often jitterbug-worthy tunes, belting for the criminally small audience that attended Sunday’s performance at Muddy Waters.
The set began with a tom-tom-driven drum feature, like something an indie Gene Krupa might play, which led into “Movie Loves a Screen,” the opening track from her full-length debut, Songs for a Sinking Ship. In the final bars, the song featured a vocal moment of truth, in which the singer’s voice swelled, broke, and crested beautifully at a bubbly high E.
After that number’s refrain of “I just want to mean something to you,” the next songs, “Drop Dead Gorgeous” and “Terrible Things,” showcased her dark side all the more effectively. The latter tune, where she warned of the nonspecific “things that I hide deep down inside,” was inspired by the show Dexter, but has also been featured in a Weeds promo.
The Los Angeles four-piece Chief, whose debut album comes out in mid August, opened with a solid, if conventional, set of Tom Petty-meets-The Strokes mid-tempo rockers, offering at least one great song. (During the minor-key three-part harmony of “Mighty Proud,” you could practically see tumbleweeds.)
During Smith’s set, her hands-on-hips gestures for “Stop Wondering”—a reality check for any self-congratulating lover—were pure cabaret camp. The song, in her words, “sounded like Judy Garland on a bender.” A natural show-woman, there was no self-consciousness in the way she hammed it up with her well-timed rolls of the eyes and wags of the finger. Judging by her sweet disposition and interaction with the crowd, however, there’s little chance she’s as tart or as sassy as her songs suggest. But by the time she signed off with a cover of Melanie Safka’s ’70s hit “Brand New Key,” I forgot—or didn’t care—that it was mostly an act.