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Tristen Charms the Crowd at the Varsity

9 May

By Natalie Gallagher

The days that Tristen is somebody’s opening act are numbered: this sweet-looking slender girl, with her precocious doe-eyes and wavy bob-cut that couldn’t be described as anything but cute, knowingly wields a force all her own.

As the opening act for Justin Townes Earle at the Varsity on Monday night, Tristen had a lot to live up to (for the slim pickings, at least, that had showed up to see her). In the past, JTE has tugged along such openers as Jessica Lea Mayfield—along the same vein as Tristen: talented, spirited female alt-country stars on the rise, with plenty to offer. Tristen disappointed no one.

©Danielle Holbert

Dressed in short shorts and a silk snap-button western, the 27-year old artist took the stage with  her three-piece band (guitarist Buddy Hughen, bass guitarist Jordan Caress, and drummer Jamie Dick) and confidently won hearts over. Tristen has her first full-length album, the critically acclaimed Charlatans at the Garden Gate, in her back pocket: a smooth-sailing album of tempting melodies and pop hooks that give her innocent soprano a devious edge.

Lyrically, Tristen takes all these talents and packs her knuckles for the punch: her set progresses in haunts, from the simple, sad lullaby of “Avalanche” to the impressive stalking of “Doomsday,” where Tristen takes the approach of a distrustful lover, where true love is an enemy at best. “The secret still remains as a bird inside a cage,” sings Tristen on Doomsday, her high voice catching the attitude of one who is pursued by an inevitable end. “Can the tale be true love does not pursue/that it lives where it is free as a bird inside a tree?”

Through all of this, Tristen played the crowd unpretentiously. “This next song is called ‘Avalanche,’” she says seriously. “I just wanted to give you some context.” And, later: “This song is called ‘Monster.’ It’s about a monster… the joke that never dies.”

Though Chicago-born and raised, Tristen has relocated to Nashville and has picked up a little of that gentle, lilting accent. She speaks a little delicately, a little slowly— and that paired with her petite half-smile is just enough to confuse a listener on which side of Scarlett O’Hara they might be watching.

“Thank you all so much for coming out. I’m Tristen, and we’re here opening for Justin Townes Earle…. Y’all know who that is, right?” Tristen asked the thickened crowd later in her set, to which she received a warm—but far from joyous— response. “Oh, I think a few more of you know who that is,” she said, smiling coquettishly. The crowd responded in kind.

The audience was there for Justin Townes Earle, of course, who is an incredible talent—an incomparable guitar player and a gentle king on stage—but they were pleasantly surprised, if not incredibly won over, by Tristen’s casual conversations and snuck-up-on-you melodies. The artist will be releasing a second full-length album this fall, and you would be sorely remiss to skip the show—and risk missing the enchantment.

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