UCSB Arts Lectures – Amythyst Kiah. May 5, 2022 UCSB Campbell Hall | Credit: David Bazemore

The sweet, soulful intimacy of this performance by Amythyst Kiah and her trio on their night off from opening for The Who made an ideal alternative to the margarita-fueled anarchy of mainstream Cinco de Mayo. Although Kiah’s profile has risen rapidly in the past six months thanks to a new album, a Grammy nomination, and the gig mentioned above opening for Pete Townshend and company, she’s an experienced performer with the poise and musicianship to hold an audience rapt from first note to last. Her funky and flexible companions — Emma Lambiase on bass and Austin Drewry on drums — provided the wide-open musical landscape in which Kiah’s heartfelt originals and imaginative cover versions unfolded.

Switching back and forth between electric and acoustic guitars, Kiah built her set around the intense personal reflections found on Wary + Strange, her latest release. “Wild Turkey,” about losing her mother when she was still a teen, hit hard on the eve of Mother’s Day weekend. “Ballad of Lost” revealed more of Kiah’s emotional life as she mused about a failed romance. 

A pair of quirky covers — “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division and Moby’s classic “Natural Blues” — hinted at Kiah’s generational influences and demonstrated her ability to switch things up in an arrangement. As expected, the evening’s highlight came on “Black Myself,” the tune she wrote for the group Our Native Daughters and that she reprised on the new record. This song feels like it’s always been around. Few artists in any genre can create something this essential, and it was galvanizing to hear it live. Kiah’s beautiful, self-assured voice sounded great all night long, and never more so than on these defiant lines: “I’ll stand my ground and smile in your face / ’Cause I’m Black myself.” 

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