Last week I traversed to Jack London Square for the second show of BFF.fm’s summer concert series, MUSH. With the goal of highlighting the diverse sounds of the Bay Area music scene, MUSH promises a small outdoor concert experience a stone’s throw from the Jack London square eateries and nearby bars.
While BFF.fm still has a few wrinkles to smooth out in terms of running multiple outdoor sets, whatever was lost in technical translation was made up for by the intimacy of the show. For the first half hour, BFF.fm DJs spun their favorites as a small crowd gathered, perching on a set of yellow bleachers or curling up on jackets and blankets on the grass.
Castro District native Maya Songbird started the concert off with with a determined chant for us to get up and dance, setting the mood for her high-energy catalog. Her beats are straightforward and insistent, with clear funk influences. My favorite part of her set was definitely the last few songs, when everyone in the audience got on their feet to bop along. The most notable dancer in the crowd was headliner Ah Mer Ah Su, who had been watching from the grass for the entire performance, cheering on her fellow songstress and gleefully chanting “slut, slut, slut!” at Maya’s request during “Regal Slut.”
This moment stood out for me as something one is rarely privy to during a larger show. Performers may thank their tour mates or bring them on stage for a song or two, but watching Ah Mer Ah Su cheer Maya Songbird on, at one point twerking freely on her picnic blanket while the rest of us huddled together, not yet warmed up enough to dance, seemed to exemplify the goals of this concert series — to elevate Bay musicians and strengthen the community of performers and listeners alike — more than anything else I saw that evening. That, and the very cute moment during Ah Mer Ah Su’s set when she declared, as she and Maya are both witches, that it was “a night of black magic.”
After Maya Songbird finished, my friend and I meandered to the docks while another BFF.fm DJ took over. We stayed there, enjoying the last gasp of golden hour, until we were drawn back by an absolutely rousing remix of “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton. A few minutes later, Ah Mer Ah Su started her performance.
Based in Oakland, Ah Mer Ah Su sings over electronic beats not unlike Maya Songbird’s, but with a more soulful, introspective lyrical approach that touches on her experience as a black trans woman. Ah Me Ah Su is more guarded as a performer than the exuberant Maya, but her stripped-down vocal delivery provided more than enough venerability. Her voice is powerful, and while her instrumentals don’t require a full band, I found myself dreaming of horns, violins — whatever would take the drama to a next level. “Perfect” and “Powerful” were audience favorites, the former an ode to letting go of the impossible expectations we place on ourselves, the latter an examination of the concept that the only thing we reliably have control over is our reactions.
The idea of control — losing it, desiring it, letting it go — seems to be a prevalent theme in Ah Mer Ah Su’s music. She established this early on with “Klonopin,” a slow building lament of drug dependency that builds into a layered chorus of schoolyard-like rhymes that served as one of her first singles. Sang at the concert with a new arrangement that will back an upcoming dance performance, I can only imagine how powerful of an experience it is to be able to revisit old works and adjust them to more accurately represent who you are now — or who you wish you could have been when you first created them.