@ Cooper Square Hotel
Sweet Indie Pop With Heart
Don’t let the sugary tunes fool you: Francisca Valenzuela is no high-maintenance pop starlet. With only a breathtaking view of the city skyline in the background and a keyboard in front of her, the 24-year-old Chilean-American singer-songwriter and classically-trained pianist delivered a heartfelt if exuberant acoustic performance at the Cooper Square Hotel’s penthouse on Tuesday night.
“Just me and the keys and you guys,” quipped the bubbly chanteuse accustomed to packing theaters back in Chile. Yet the intimate, pared-down showcase—part of Joe’s Pub’s Summer Salon Series at the hotel—proved to be the perfect setting to highlight Valenzuela’s enviable vocal and piano-playing chops.
Wearing a button-down black and white stripe floral blouse, flowy peach skirt, sparkly silver socks and patent leather black shoes, hair in a tight Ballerina bun on the top of her head, the 24-year-old’s youthful appearance made it feel as if we were about to witness a recital. However as soon as Valenzuela dove into opener “Quiero Verte Más” (“I Want To See You More”), a song about the lovesickness brought on by a chance encounter, it quickly became evident that this was no amateur.
Valenzuela teased out the depth to her pop during the 45-minute, 10-song set consisting of ballads and folksy-pop from her two studio albums: 2007’s Muerdete La Lengua (Bite Your Tongue) and 2011’s Buen Soldado (Good Soldier). What wasn’t captured on record (in its totality) though, and most likely have been lost in room that fit more than the 100 or so present, are the singer’s impressive projection abilities and beautifully smoky timbre.
As she transitioned from her Spanish-language work to “Hurt,” the first of two English-language songs in her set that night, Valenzuela explained: “I’m kinda gringa, kinda Chilena,” referring to the fact that she was born in California (to Chilean parents) and moved to the Andean nation at age 13. Her music also embodies these North and South American influences. The songstress’ sassy, piano-heavy pop rock is reminiscent of Billy Joel and her voice echoes Fiona Apple and Mexico’s Julieta Venegas. Valenzuela’s penchant for poetic, narrative lyrics and socially-conscious subject matter makes sense–she hails from the home of Chilean folk greats Victor Jara and Violeta Parra, whose “Run Run Se Fué Pa’l Norte” (“Run Run Left Up North”) was a part of the night’s repertoire.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, piano-driven tunes like “Dulce” (“Sweet”) and “Que Seria” (“What Would Be/Happen”) seemed virtually unchanged from their respective LPs, while others, like “Quiero Verte Más,” a toothache-sweet, circa-2000 Julieta Venegas-esque cut on the album, for instance, was unrecognizable. Valenzuela’s protest song “Los Poderosos” (“The Powerful Ones”) seemed much more impassioned and charged with urgency than the elegant, elegiac rock song on Muerdete.
Valenzuela switched instruments for her final song—finishing with an electric performance of “Muerdete La Lengua” (“Bite Your Tongue”), a rock tune about heartbreak, on the acoustic guitar—and brought home the point of the night: there’s more to Francisca Valenzuela than just one note.