Review & Photos by Shae Lake
As soon as Tianna Esperanza took the stage, the room froze. Doused in purple lights, her long, dark dress and matching hair wrap made her look regal, otherworldly. She wasted no time, immediately launching into a brief rendition of “Backlash Blues” by Nina Simone. “Do you think all us colored folks are just second-class fools?” she crooned into the microphone, gazing out into the audience. And thus, Tianna Esperanza set the tone for the exquisite and intense performances to follow.
On February 16, Tianna Esperanza stopped to perform at the historic Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California. She was opening for Mick Flannery’s Canada and United States tour, which started in Calgary, Canada on February 11. Esperanza and Flannery would continue to perform in Los Angeles, California, and Boulder, Colorado before concluding their tour on February 19 in Denver.
Although Esperanza is just beginning her music career, her grandmother, Paloma McLardy, was a member of the punk band The Slits and The Raincoats, performing under the stage name Palmolive. However, Esperanza’s sound profile significantly differs from her grandmother’s, with a bold and unique Jazz and R&B feel. Many of Esperanza’s songs explore her identity as a biracial Black woman and even take inspiration from civil rights activists from the 1960s and 1970s.
This is evident in her solemn, partially-spoken song “Lewis,” which officially began Esperanza’s set. In the song, she centers the teachings of activist Lewis H. Michaux, who owned the African National Memorial Bookstore in Harlem, New York City, from 1932 to 1974. She then played “Three Straight Bitches From Hell,” a lively song that explores her queerness and negative experiences with past relationships with women. Her final opening song was “Granada,” a melodic homage to her family’s Spanish ancestry.
The show’s opening was sensitive and intimate, a brief introduction to Tianna Esperanza as a musician, and as a person. Her strength and vulnerability immediately engaged the audience and made it difficult to look away.
As soon as she finished her songs, she introduced Mick Flannery, the headliner for the tour. Flannery is a folk singer and songwriter from Ireland, who has won two categories at the International Songwriting Competition, Best Irish Male at the 2009 Meteor Music Awards, and was nominated for the Choice Music Prize. His performance was full of sorrowful tracks that contrasted greatly with his witty, humorous monologues.
Before the concert ended, Flannery welcomed Esperanza back onstage to perform some duets. These included “Old Friend” and “Hunger,” two ghostly, hauntingly beautiful songs Esperanza and Flannery had written together. The duo continued to perform Mick Flannery’s “It Don’t Matter,” a cover of “Silver Dagger” by Bob Dylan, and a cover of “Angel From Montgomery” by John Prine. All throughout, they paired perfectly, Esperanza’s sweet and strong voice contrasting Flannery’s more seasoned and subtle sound.
As the pair made their final bows, Esperanza had a special announcement to make to the crowd: her first full-length album, Terror, had just been officially released during the performance. As the audience and Flannery applauded her, she made one last promise to everyone in Sweetwater Music Hall: “I’m going to be a star one day.”