More than ever we are connected to the artists that we listen to the most. Social media and the ever-present demand for entertainment mean that concerts for the tiniest indie acts and the biggest names in the industry are usually never-ending. The sheer volume of opportunities to see a favorite act is amazing.
But what is a fair expectation for a concert, or more specifically, the artist on stage? Have we become so demanding of entertainers that we forget the most talented souls are the ones who didn’t aspire for fame, or expect the demands of life on tour?
I can’t say that my excitement for Jay Som’s Wednesday night show at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C., held any consideration for her limits as a person. More importantly, I had no idea that she had just recently decided to postpone the remaining tour dates of the worldwide circuit for her latest album for mental health reasons. I am openly a huge fan of Jay Som — real name Melina Duterte — and I was there for the music.
Jay Som’s latest release, Anak Ko, is her first album to come out since 2017, and in an unusual trend for my music consumption, I enjoyed the album as one cohesive unit. To listen to an entire album, front-to-back in the order the artist intended, requires more patience and desire to treat the work as an experience than I usually care to expend. But Anak Ko made it feel like second nature; a bubbly melodic work encompassing heartache and joy in a package that shows how indistinguishable they can be at times.
To me, Jay Som’s music is the human experience. You have a sound that is bright and danceable, but it’s paired with lyrics that are introspective and, at times, kind of haunting. It makes you feel good, but doesn’t really fit in with the category of ‘feel good’ music; if anything, it’s music that can make you feel seen. I wish I had realized this was a theme for her work.
Duterte immediately exudes a collected coolness once her show begins. She doesn’t need to try too hard because she knows her audience and what they expect from her.
As her band set up, I could see that she and her bandmate donned “Sum 41” long-sleeve tees. I’m not sure if it being the night before Halloween had anything to do with that, but it just felt right.
So many times at live performances, artists opt to slowly build the momentum and tension between their music and the audience throughout the night. Play the new, lesser-known songs first so they get some traction, and play the biggest hits later on once everyone’s dying to know if they’ll even get to hear them at all.
Jay Som does not play that game. In fact, she doesn’t seem interested in playing any games. She immediately kicked off the set with one of Anak Ko’s bigger singles, “If You Want It,” and wasted no time rolling through her best songs — although they are all admittedly pretty damn good. There was limited fanfare or stage banter, and I respect her for giving a no-frills performance that ultimately delivered her strongest work in a stronger package. Duterte was a great performer, but I left that night with complicated feelings.
You know that one Portlandia skit, “Going Home?” Carrie and Fred attend a concert via general admission, and throughout the entire experience they look forward to the moment where they can finally escape and just go home. The bit is popular because it is so relatable; as much fun as concerts can be, they require a lot of energy and dedication to seeing someone you love, including being shoved among a couple hundred other hot sweaty people for hours at a time.
Normally I get tired and angsty and just want to go home before the openers have even finished. But this time was different, I desperately wanted to see every song possible, cling to every piece of stage banter, and clap and scream for far too long to beg for an encore, because the energy of her band and the quality of her music is that good.
The end of the concert was abrupt, and the band members quietly filed off stage. I was home in bed on a weeknight around 11 p.m. cursing myself. So many times I had wanted this to happen at other, more lackluster concerts. My wish was granted at the wrong one.
But in that desire, for more everything, more music, more time, more value from my experience, the statement (or lack thereof) of Duterte’s actions became very clear to me. She’s a person who has struggles, and no interest in masking her difficulties to keep churning out a commercially viable version of herself for any of us to consume. If anything, it’s proof that Jay Som values humanity over anything else.