Concert Review + Photos: Hazel English @ The Chapel SF
Hazel English was the first to take the stage at The Chapel SF on Wednesday night (3/15). Smiling at the ground as she reaches for her guitar, the crowd displays genuine excitement for the Oakland-based singer-songwriter.
“Hi, I’m Hazel English and we are going to play some songs for your tonight” she says after taking her position at center stage. The crowd cheers and begins inching forward, trying to get as close to the humble artist as possible. Her and guitarist Dave Vieira lock eyes, give each other a nod and begin to awe the crowd with an intimate performance.
English was opening for Thao Nguyen, who has embarked on a solo tour this year, explaining why English did not have Liam O’Neill (drums) and Eric Sugatan (bass) with her on stage. Even though English did not have her full band to back her during the performance, she still managed to captivate the audience with her intimate lyrics and humble personality. Rather than the dreamy, indie-pop sounds you‘re typically used to, English used her acoustic guitar to sing stripped-back versions of her songs, which proved to have heavy influence on the audience.
As English plays through the songs on her debut EP Never Going Home, her lyrics take you through an emotional roller coaster. From facing an internal tug-of-war about what she wants with “Make it Better,” to battling the constant struggles of anxiety with “I’m Fine,” to brushing aside all the fog in front of her to find the real answers with “It’s Not Real.” When you listen to her lyrics, you can tell she’s not beating herself up about her daily struggles, but rather searching for the answers. The optimism in her lyrics shines bright throughout her performance, making her stage presence so calming. You can’t help but want to hug her during the performance.
Her EP appears to be not only a huge accomplishment professionally, but also personally. As I look into the crowd, I watch as some cycle through phases of complete understanding and complete bliss. The smooth & dreamy sounds of her songs is relaxing, making it easy to tune out and enjoy the performance. Whereas the lyrics ring true for so many people listening, maintaining their full attention on each word that softly spills out of of speakers. It’s an experience where you can’t help but to gingerly smile and nod your head to the sounds of the guitar.
Although it was a very intimate and personal performance, she still managed to make the crowd laugh. She kept the interactions with the audience brief, but when she spoke in between songs, she always managed to charm them with her timid personality. After she finishes up one of her songs, she looks out into the audience and in her Australian accent says “I had a dust particle fly in my nose during that one and I was trying not to itch my nose. I guess that’s just part of the job now.” The crowd laughs and woos as she finally gets to wiggle out the itch.
About midway through the performance, she really connected deeply with the audience when she opens up and talks about her constant anxiety. “I swam a some laps in the pool today. I’m not the best swimmer and kind of afraid of water, so that was a big accomplishment for me” English says as she tunes her guitar for the next song. The audience showed their appreciation for her sharing that personal story and cheered her on, some shouting words of encouragement. “There’s so many people that deal with anxiety and depression on a daily basis, so I just think it’s something more people should talk about. I wrote this next song to for that reason” says English as her and Dave Vieira begin playing “I’m Fine.”
It was a short set for Hazel English, but you could tell by the facial expressions of the crowd that they were bummed when she announced her last song. She finished up the set with “Never Going Home Again” waved to everyone and then walked off the stage. Although it was a short set, I presume a full length album will be released soon. Which means you’ll get another chance to catch this up-and-coming artist.