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Back at the start of the year on January 16th, I went to the Vera Project to see YouTube-video ukelele sensation Julia Nunes. The Vera Project is an all-ages venue, so perhaps it's not surprising that the opening act, Jeff Stillwell and Whitney Balan, looked like a couple of kids even younger than college-student Nunes. Stillwell and Balan were earnest singer-songwriter types who took turns doing individual songs. They had charmingly awkward humorous banter between their songs, which got a lot of audience response, and they did play one song together, a cover of the Beatles' "Dance with Another". Their music didn't really grab me but they were fairly good.

For some reason there was a good 45 minutes between the two acts, which was far too long, but Julia Nunes proved worth the wait. Although she gained fame in part for her ukelele playing, and got a big cheer when she pulled that out later on, Nunes opened her set on acoustic guitar and switched between the two instruments. As a YouTube star, she's known for her videos of course, but her live performance showed that her popularity wasn't just due to some clever video editing tricks; she's the real deal. She had a deep strong voice and smart lyrics, reminding me of Ani DiFranco. She balances serious lyrics against cheerful tunes, and told a funny anecdote about a DJ telling her, "Wow, that song sounds like pure sunshine," to which she responded, "Oh, um, really? 'cause it's about how I'm not sure I have the capacity to love." Despite that somber claim, Nunes played with a lot of personality, frequently breaking into big smiles and clearly enjoying herself. Not surprisingly, she had a very supportive audience that knew when to sing along, clap, or snap; during the song "Build Me Up" Nunes let the audience sing the chorus while she sang harmony and backing vocals. She also beatboxed in some songs as well as sang, and perhaps could take a cue from Reggie Watts and start using samplers too, at least when she plays live. Nunes clearly has lots of talent and sounded great just by herself, but I'm really looking forward to hearing what she can do with a band. 

Although the Vera Project isn't all that big, I never really got close enough to the stage to get any decent photos; the few that I have can be seen in this set on Flickr


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