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In The Valley Below – a duo to keep your eye on

by Nelson Bae

In The Valley Below, Sayers Club, June 4

I’ve always been a sucker for the boy-girl onstage dynamic – I can’t take my eyes off the palpable tension between the sexes. The Buckingham/Nicks soap opera on “Rumours” still resonates. I was enthralled by VV and Hotel of the Kills singing face-to-face at the mic years ago at a scorching Troubadour show. VV and Jack White did a similar sweaty tango of rage and intimacy as Dead Weather at the Mayan in 2009 (one of the two best shows of that year). And most recently, the close tenderness of Joy Williams and John Paul White of the now-on-hiatus (mysteriously) Civil Wars captivated me at the El Rey last year.

In the immortal words of Yoda, “there is another.” Take note of an act called In The Valley Below. I know nothing about the personal relationship between the duo of Angela Gail and Jeffrey Jacob – and the less I know, the better. Are they married? Are they exes? Or are we watching a relationship blossom through the music? Part of me desires the mystery of this relationship to continue because it’s a fascinating addendum to an addictive collection of hooks in their songs.

I credit my friend Xtina for originally sending me the catchy mid-tempo “Peaches” which tugged my ear and wouldn’t let go. But, as usual, it was the live performance earlier this year that really hooked me. While Jacob portrays the aloof hipster clad in what can be best described as stagecoach-chic, it’s Gail that is visually captivating. Imagine a goth Stevie Nicks blessed with that Katharine Hepburn jawline that subtly roots the foundation of classic beauty. Her stick-figure frame and features are always clad in floor-length dresses that sweep the stage – giving her movements the illusion of gliding, not walking. The analysis of the dynamic between the two is unavoidable. Jacob focuses on the task-at-hand: his guitar, the chords, the vocals – he barely even glances at Gail unless the vocal crescendo of their intertwining voices force him to acknowledge the intensity between them. For an instant, their eyes may lock or they’ll face each other in harmony.

In the meantime, Gail plays the supportive spouse (?) to a tee – between songs, she’ll wipe the sweat off his brow or hold the drink to his lips for him to sip. But all of this is secondary to the quality of the songwriting – if the songs weren’t good, it’s nothing but a gimmick, right? The obvious catchy tune of “Peaches” only scratches the surface of simmering talent. The “Dove Season” chorus provides a porthole glance to their relationship:

You are the hunter, I’m the dove
Season’s coming near, there’s room for both of us
Can’t choose your love, I can use your love
Can’t lose your love
If this is the end, let’s start all over again

But the real obvious winner in their widening oeuvre is “El Dorado” – that’s the singalong piece that compels two strangers in the audience to turn to one another and jointly proclaim, “That’s a hit.” Words don’t do the song justice. You’ll have to hear it and then you’ll know.

What is it about this male/female dynamic in music that intrigues me? Why am I such a sucker for relationship drama? Am I trying to escape my own intimacy issues by staring intently at the sexual theater performing onstage rather than peering inwardly at my own relationship failures?

I haven’t experienced the appropriate therapy or analysis to answer these questions – but I do know I’m drawn to the boy/girl thin line between love/hate. In the lyrics of a recent hit by the Lumineers, “it’s better to feel pain than nothing at all – the opposite of love is indifference.” Some people (apparently millions) can’t get enough of reality television because real-life soap operas are compelling and fill a void in the viewers’ lives. Personally, I can’t get enough of real-life relationships played out in the form of music. What void is that filling?

When it’s genuine, the intimacy and sweltering tension between the male and female singer is like watching sex – in front of an appreciative audience. I feel like a voyeur. And I can’t look away.

P.S. Check out In The Valley Below’s performance on Late Show with David Letterman.

Nelson Bae

About Nelson Bae

Nelson is a music supervisor based in Los Feliz, CA. Follow Nelson on twitter @nelrock123

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