Hey Underwater Sunshine Fest, it’s Charlie - I’ve got the high-stakes privilege of introducing the final band before the festival: Kid Sistr. The group, composed of bassist Sara Keden, drummer Rebecca Webster, and guitarist Sabel, is a dynamic trio of women who have each already begun to make names for themselves independently: Keden’s debut EP Everybody came out in August, with Sabel on vocals, and Sabel’s debut Mirth Drive came out in April, both to a pretty spectacular degree of success on streaming services. Webster’s skill on the drums is also more than worth mentioning - there’s an extraordinary video on YouTube of her playing with Michael League, face of Grammy-Award-winning internationally famous jam band Snarky Puppy. She’s grinning ear to ear the whole time, playing with a distant intensity like heat lightning, but smiling like it’s nothing. But in Kid Sistr, the three have brought their already formidable talents together, and the result is something truly entrancing.
The most distinctive thing about Kid Sistr is their extraordinary sense of rhythm. Keden’s performance on bass is always riveting (look up “Cardinal,” from Everybody, for an example - especially the last two minutes), but when she teams up with Sabel’s intimate, driving guitar and vocals, and Webster’s exuberant drums, it’s hard not to move with the music. The group’s name came from a song Keden and Sabel wrote together in college, “Little Sister Song,” which Sabel says was meant to be a “silly, uplifting song.” They brought that energy into the creation of Kid Sistr, and it comes through clearly even in highly disciplined originals like “Tourist.”
“Tourist” is a heady-yet-controlled piece that concerns itself with the self-mythologizing that we all engage in, and at first it doesn’t seem all that uplifting. The short track seems almost spare in its construction, a simple guitar riff repeated, a deceptively simple drum beat, and an almost imperceptible bassline. But the spare style showcases the control that these three have over their medium: Sabel signals with a suspension added to the riff, and then the piece starts to accumulate. The rhythm builds with the repeated “you know / you know” until it reaches a critical mass, pulling in the audience, making everyone in the room feel as though they’re a part of the intimate tension that Sabel, Keden, and Webster are developing on stage, and finally releases: and it releases you in a different place than it gathered you up from, a more carefree, more physical, more grounded place than you were in before you heard them play.
When you’re feeling young, and alive, and aching to connect, this is the kind of music that provides you with what you’re looking for; when you’re feeling tired, and alone, and hoping to be left alone, this is the kind of music that lets you wallow and brings you out of it at the same time. These three are skilled in their own right: listening to their EPs or watching Webster play on YouTube is evidence of that. But since I listened to their EPs and watched them play “Tourist” for the first time, to write this article, I think I’ve listened to “Tourist” three dozen times. Hell, there was a half hour or so where I just listened to it on loop and let it move me. Whether you start out watching Keden move with the music, or trying to put yourself into the lyrics, there’s something miraculous about connecting to it more fundamentally than lyrics: the rhythms, the ethereal voices, the hypnotic riffs all bundle you in sound. It’s going to be a good festival - there’s no doubt about that. The line-up is excellent, each act is spectacular in its own right. But I’ve already checked the schedule to be sure I knew when Kid Sistr was playing, because I’m not going to miss a minute of it.