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Emily Wells and Lex Leto are the Staple of What Track Zero Achieves

The first concert of the Track Zero series from The Englert displays the goal of this initiative: to perfectly blend our talented music scene with touring exponents that inspire those locally, and continue to make strides internationally. 

Emily Wells and Lex Leto are analogous in many ways: both incredible singers, lenient on the use of sampling through their live performance, and display control over their instrument of choice. I would compare their match to PB and Jelly, toast to butter, tea and biscuits, and every other cheesy food analogy.

Lex Leto’s performance was deeply emotionally charged, as is staple from their original productions. Most of their performance was based on their Right Here album, released mid-summer. Just like the A24 movie with the similar name as the time of release, it sits in an unsettling yet comforting and beautiful spot on the musical spectrum. Leto evokes these feelings using seamless transitions, and soothing ethereal synths that are a joy to listen to. From time to time, these would be accompanied by Leto’s soft voice, as in “the dark alone it were my own”, where the use of foley-like percussion elements and vocal chops generated a clear contrast between the eerie and the beautiful. Leto’s performance complimented perfectly with what Wells was bringing to the table, using similar elements that draw inspiration from the headliner yet separating themselves as a local staple of live music.

Lex Leto singing. Image via Andrés Mora Mata

Emily Wells stopped in as part of a three-show tour through the Midwest. Iowa City could not be more glad to have her perform within the walls of The James, described by Wells during her set as an intimate space that gave her the liberty to express freely. Wells compiles more than 20 years of her career, and the trajectory shows how intertwined she is with her instruments. Deliberate and delicate movements through out the performance displayed the emotions of her most recent release Regards to the End, which contains most of the songs in Wells’ performance. She presented the contrast of unsettledness and beauty through arrangement of synths or violin, evoking drums, and vocal mastery.

Image via Andrés Mora Mata

There is a certain aspect of vulnerability when performing a piece of music for the first time, that is hardly compared with any other vulnerable situation. During her performance, Wells prefaced a piece by setting a stage: an uncomfortable dinner where artists and friends are forced to wear a figurative mask towards a funder, and how this dynamic could either strengthen or diminish their relationship by voicing their true or constructed opinions towards a political issue. The piece, a part of an opera, takes you to an uncanny place with scarce, atonal keys layered with Wells vocals that sounded purposely frightened. Definitely one of my favorites of the show.

Wells dedicated an awesome rendition of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance to Leto, as an intimate and truthful exchange of artists sharing the same stage, and maybe the same experiences independently. That encapsulated to me what Track Zero strives for, and what it will be for the rest of the series: a curated match of local artists with their touring counterparts where barriers are basically non-existent.

The next Track Zero show is Kassa Overall, with support from Jack Lion & Tahjia Brantley at The James Theater on September 29th.