It could have been a brilliant disaster: for the last year or so, Jessica Dobson has been hyped (mainly by this paper, as well as Anthem) as the best thing you've never heard—literally. Dobson's had the same three songs on her MySpace page for as long as I can remember, shelved demos from her first go-round in May 2005 with the whole major-record-label-debut thing. Those songs were good enough, but a lot was hinging on this performance, only her second or third after returning six months ago from recording a second debut in Seattle. Her sweaty bar gig at the Prospector a few weeks back saw the tiny spot packed to the rafters, leaving most everyone—myself included—outside and out of earshot in the cold; so Dobson would finally stand judgement at tonight's show: playing to a sit-down audience, with a bandaged, gnarly gash on her middle finger (cooking mishap) and a baby-fresh band and a legion of best pals in attendance. And? Oh, my god: Dobson's ditched the bubble gum pop for whiskey-on-the-rocks rock, coming off like PJ Harvey channeling I'm With Stupid-era Aimee Mann. Her songs are primed for a Jon Brion session, lush and bent on pairing simple choruses with layers of sink-your-teeth-in keyboard hooks and guitar riffs. As a woman, it's (still) always a little thrilling to see a gal playing lead guitar, more so when Dobson moved to keyboards for "Confidence" and "Most Sundays" (cue silent coo) and then to bass for a cover of the Clash's "Police and Thieves." Having never seen her back in the day when she was playing her acoustic guitar for anyone who'd listen at the Hub, I have no idea if her stage presence (confident, alluring) is new or not, but combined with her new songs the result is magnificent, the kind of peformance that makes you step back, shake your head, blink and think: Thank god. We were right all along.
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As for Venus Infers, well, let's put it this way—or rather, how the band put it in Squeeze OC: Venus Infers have indie credibility with mainstream accessibility. Which means . . . nothing. (Ellen Griley)