An Intimate Evening with Lera Lynn at the Sweetwater

in SF Concert Reviews by

Nashville singer-songwriter Lera Lynn brought her brand of femme noir to Sweetwater Music Hall Tuesday night. Dressed in vintage and bathed in blue light, her performance in the sleepy Marin County town invoked scenes from a David Lynch film.

Lynn’s goosebump-inducing vocals and sultry guitar licks hint at country and rockabilly roots and have all the makings of a murder mystery soundtrack. As it so happens, she teamed up with T Bone Burnett and Roseanne Cash in 2015 to create just that.

“Some of you are probably here because of True Detective,” she said of her appearance on the HBO drama’s second season. Lynn’s “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For,” “Lately” and “My Least Favorite Life” joined songs from Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and Leonard Cohen on the series’ moody soundtrack and introduced her to an expanding fanbase. While playing a songbird in a dimly lit bar may not have been a stretch for Lynn — whose career spans the past decade — the recurring role undoubtedly marked an uptick in the young star’s trajectory.

Lera Lynn performing at the Sweetwater in Mill Valley

Tuesday night in Mill Valley, Lera Lynn offered up songs sampled from her
entire catalog — from the forlorn “Bobby Baby” from her debut album — all the way to an in-progress tune that may or may not make the cut on her next record. Backed by Todd Lombardo, Lynn showcased her talent as a collaborator and shared songs from her latest record, Plays Well With Others.

“I’m the queen of duets all of a sudden and I don’t know how it happened,”
said Lynn, who, like the first ladies of 60’s country music, excels in the classic push-pull vocal format. Lombardo, a touring veteran, was a superb stand-in for Lynn’s duet counterparts on “What is Love” and “In Another Life.” Norwegian artist and tour mate Thomas Dybdahl also came aboard to perform “Sunny California,” a song they wrote together.

Renditions of Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” were crowd pleasers at the historic venue, known for hosting low key performances by big names. Originally a dive bar frequented by off the clock superstars, the Sweetwater brand was revived in 2012 when Bob Weir and a group of investors set up shop in the current location, a former Masonic hall. With exposed beams and spot on acoustics, the small theater was the ideal place for attentive listeners and a personal performance from Lera Lynn and company. One fan who drove all the way from Fremont to catch the show says he prefers to see singer-songwriters in the small venue in lieu of spaces with rowdy crowds and “that city feel.”

Whether she’s playing in smoky Southern bars or a polite Marin County theater, it’s clear that Lynn has honed her craft on the road. Her command of the room is seductive, but not needy, and she leaves you wanting more. She draws on a body of work that is cohesive though evolving, and it’s clear she has matured as an artist since her breakout HBO role. Fittingly, her live show exudes mystery and leads us to wonder what’s next for Lera Lynn.

Photo by Gina Teichert