SAN FRANCISCO — Sabrina Claudio can pass for a pop star, but her music is unlike most on Top 40 radio. Rather than writing for massive hooks and thumping choruses, her songs take time to develop and fit more in a jazz or lounge mold. Lana del Rey comes to mind, yet Claudio is more avant-garde, with songs that also incorporate more electronica on record. At her show at the Masonic on Thursday, she and her technically proficient band balanced on a tightrope between sensual desire and other strong emotions with a restraint that’s uncommon in pop music. It was the musical equivalent to a leisurely drive on a track with muscle cars.
Backed by a quartet, Claudio emerged from behind a glittery curtain composed of individual strands, singing “Take One to the Head.” Wearing a slick black evening gown, she was slow and measured, letting the band and heavy bursts of fog build ambience around her breathy voice. Except for one or two songs, the band stayed in that gear for the duration of the show.
Most fans were attentive and respectful for the performance, which was more or less a requirement to enjoy the songs, though at least a couple of men in attendance didn’t get the memo. Prior to “Unravel Me,” Claudio kneeled down to shake a few hands when someone apparently tried to pull off one of her elbow-length gloves. She wasn’t amused and called him out on it. Later in the show another fan obscenely catcalled her. Perhaps these things happen regularly, but Claudio’s songs are nuanced and sometimes hushed enough that audience members voices can be heard.
While the opening song showed the singer’s lounge side, “Unravel Me” leaned more toward R&B. The band started, paused and kicked back into “Stand Still,” with tempo changes being just enough to push the show’s momentum. Between vibe-propelled songs like “Holding the Gun,” “Did We Lose Our Minds” and “Problem With Me*,” she acknowledged fans and talked about her new record, Truth Is, which she’ll release next week.
“It’s hard for me to express myself other than in my songwriting,” she said at one point. “The truth is I’m a pretty shy girl.”
She then explained that the new record is a collaborative affair, and she decided to put pictures of the people she worked with on the cover because working with them allowed her to break out of her shell and talk intimately about herself.
Following “As Long As You’re Asleep,” fan favorite “Frozen” turned in a singalong. For several songs, Claudio’s drummer played a cajón, which made songs like “All To You” sound even sparser and more intimate. By the time “Too Much Too Late” popped up, it stood out for being the first uptempo, poppy tune of the night. The tempo was reeled back in for the sensual jam “Tell Me,” followed by the jazzy song structure of “Orion’s Belt.” The tail end of the set was highlighted by “Messages From Her,” which stood out not for its tempo but for the raw way Claudio delivered her lyrics. She concluded the main set with her newest single; the forthcoming album’s title track.
Claudio’s opener was R&B crooner Gallant, who unlike her was a ball of wired, anxious energy. He bounded across the stage and jumped off platforms during songs like “Sleep On It,” which was accented by fingerpicked guitar and was one of several on which the artist reached high to his falsetto. He dedicated the song to single people, whom he said remember what makes relationships so difficult.
The anthemic “Doesn’t Matter” had crunchy guitar parts reminiscent of ’90s alt-rock, while other tunes showed Gallant’s other strengths. “Bourbon” leisurely drifted along while “Weight in Gold” had a fun bluesy guitar intro. Gallant and his band took a dramatic pause in their last song before he finished it off with his highest notes yet.