Updated Wed, Mar 14, 2012 3:45 pm
In the middle of a 36-city US tour, Paper City landed in an Athens home via the sibling of an Ohio University graduate student. The trio from Long Beach, Calif. is the brainchild of artist/songstress/multi-instrumentalist/singer Marisa Predisik. Predisik personifies the original punk ethos of DIY: she wrote, produced and engineered all the songs on Paper City's just-released second disc Popular Talk, brought to life at LOL House on Aug. 20 with help from her bandmates Ben Swenson (bass) and Shelby Prendergast (drums).
To the fortunate few who were lucky enough to be invited, it was obvious from the first notes that they were witnessing something special. The band was mid-tour, their sound honed, the rhythm section actively listening to each other and following Marisa's conceptual sonic designs with perfection. We were in a house just off Route 50, but the band performed as if they were on the Letterman Show.
From the masterfully-executed "Motown Grooves" to the lilting ukulele of "My Mistake," Marisa's voice swooped, soothed and engaged the rapturous audience who demanded encores and pleaded for another set. The arrangements, melodious hooks, harmonies and relatable lyrics created an instant Athenian fanbase.
With a pop-rock sensibility evocative of the best 60s songwriters (Greenwich, Bacharach, Holland-Dozier-Holland and Brian Wilson), Paper City melds Dusty Springfield to the B-52's, making "retro" contemporary with charm, skill and a strong sense of melody. Three miles from campus, Predisik delivered it all with a presence and sincerity that was at once both intimate and universal.
Desiring to experience Athens for himself, drummer Prendergast accompanied several new fans, friends and me to Jackie O's Public House around midnight to catch local band Stella as they performed during the 13th Annual Athens Music Festival.
Stella was the first Athenian band that I was made aware of after relocating here. Most of the locals insisted I check them out, but by the time I caught up to the musical Shangri-la of Athens, their shows were few and far between. In the meantime, I became a regular listener to Radio Free Athens on WOUB AM. On two occasions I phoned the DJ to ask about a song that caught my attention, and the answer both times was "Oh, that's Stella." On Saturday, by popular demand, they reformed to play the music fest, enabling me to catch them at long last.
Guitarist/songwriter/singer and leader Laura Nadeau took command of the stage immediately, accompanied by bassist Dave Baer (of the Lennon Orchestra and Radio Free Athens fame) and augmented by local legends John "Catfish" Juliano and Eric "Junebug" Leighton on guitar and drums, respectively. From the perfectly chosen opener of Lucinda Williams' "Passionate Kisses" to the remainder of the half-hour set of covers and songs from their album, Pony Girl, it was obvious that Stella and their fans missed each other during the long drought between performances. My new friend from Long Beach immediately recognized that Athens is a town with fired-up, committed fans that appreciate authentic musical ability.
Nadeau's strong guitar playing and soaring voice connected instantly and forcefully with the Jackie O's crowd who seemed to know all of the songs and beamed their smiles in all directions. Baer effortlessly walked up and down the bass neck with delightful abandon, his own smile widening as the crowd response grew. I couldn't quite place the sound from Juliano's fingers, which was incredibly precise, whimsical, fast and clean like the best of the Nashville cats. I pointed out to Shelby that this pub band in Athens, Ohio was playing with the intensity, authority and conviction of the E Street Band, when it struck me: Catfish was doing a spot-on Lindsey Buckingham.
The set ended and the crowd roared their approval when Shelby and I moved out onto Union St., then Court, Washington and State so he could experience the remainder of the festival. Without trying or knowing, Athens again seduced the uninitiated: Paper City will return. You would do well to join them.
Michael Tedesco has championed underrepresented musicians on non-commercial radio on both coasts since 1980, characterizing his programs as "what progressive radio would be if it had remained progressive." In addition to stints as a guitar technician, tour manager, concert promoter and independent record label director in the 90s, he has also performed in the US and Europe as a guitarist in his own bands as well as with Trap Door and Robert Fripp & the League/Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists. He is currently an IT and web services specialist, pursuing a double major in Media Arts and Visual Communications at Ohio University.