One of the purest expressions of self comes with the stripping down of sound to just one man and one guitar. The singer-songwriter is left with nowhere to hide. Think of Nick Drake's heartbreaking swan song, Pink Moon. After two lush, gorgeous records of folk pop went unnoticed, Drake appeared one last time, lonely, despondent, defeated, performing only with his guitar in a sullen studio, in the corner. He would later take his life, leaving Pink Moon as his goodbye - but what could have been a more intimate, revealing goodbye? His solitary voice and his plaintive guitar say more than any orchestra could.
Saturday at Tahoma Tea and Co. (formerly the Den @ urbanXchange) brings about a showcase of three singer-songwriters, each are accustomed to performing with a full band. The evening will strip these performers down, creating a tableau of three unique voices: Humble Cub's Allan Boothe, Oh Dear!'s Brandon Sagnella and Piko Panda (AKA Jacob Gosselin).
"Piko Panda started out as me writing songs by myself when I was 15 or so," says Gosselin. "It's always kinda been something I do on the side, and every once in a while, I'll play. ... I play with a live band, every once in a while, and I never used to do that. I'm just trying to mature, musically, and play with different people and have different people's ideas in the songs."
"I guess I would describe Piko Panda as pop music," Gosselin continues. "I don't really know how to describe it."
Gosselin, who also performs in Oh Dear!, has released two albums under his Piko Panda moniker. Sure enough, his first album, Learns Colors, is a collection of late-night solo recordings, which he claims were recorded in one go from 2 to 4 a.m. on Garageband, all the way back in 2006. In this environment, as one can imagine, it's hard not to echo the late Elliot Smith's depressed yearning, and Piko Panda doesn't make any effort to dodge these similarities. The listener is easily placed in that dim bedroom, very late at night, with all the requisite thoughts racing through one's head on nights like that.
On his most recent effort, Rotten Fruit, Piko Panda gives himself the full-band treatment, and the effect is immediately transformative. The singer-songwriter morphs into an indie pop balladeer.
Tonally, Piko Panda essentially splits the difference between Allan Boothe and Brandon Sagnella. In Humble Cub, Boothe comes across as a bundle of nerves, buoyed though he is by lush accompaniment and delicately humorous lyrics. Sagnella's Oh Dear! has collected a series of songs united by an indie pop sheen and a accusatory clarity of vision. Sagnella sings outwards, Boothe inwards, and Gosselin relishes in charming self-deprecation. Vocally, Piko Panda has a smooth sweetness that is missing from both Boothe and Sagnella, whose vocals tend to have rougher, more anxious edges.
But the unifying distinction present with all of these singer-songwriters is that they are quintessentially themselves - as they must be, when they take the stage in front of strangers, isolated with just their voice and their guitar to carry them across the divide.
with Allan Boothe and Brandon Sagnella
Saturday, March 10, 7 p.m., no cover
Tahoma Tea and Co., 1932 Pacific Ave., Tacoma