Like her chief influences, Tom Waits and X, singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell lives in a black-and-white world where the gray areas matter most. During her sold-out Wednesday performance at the Fold at the Silverlake Lounge, the Angeleno limned minor-key tales of alluring but untrustworthy men, unsuspecting yet resilient women and the assorted victims of her characters' irresistible charms.
The subtly erotic mix of bluesy folk and noir shades of jazz and cabaret on her critically praised independent albums, last year's "Thrill" and 1998's "Wishbone," has garnered comparisons to alt-rock goddess PJ Harvey. Both share a devotion to Waits, not to mention a dark fascination with romantic desperation, but Mandell's music and imagery have their own deliciously vivid style.
Standing atop her instrument's case throughout the hourlong set, she sketched moods on acoustic guitar while upright-bass player Sheldon Gomberg and drummer Danny Frankel filled in the nuances. Her throaty voice lured listeners down the shadowy back streets of love, only to turn and whack them upside the head with a sudden, agonized scream.
These visceral touches emphasized the wolf-on-the-prowl feeling of such brash, revved-up numbers as "Pauline." Yet even in more subdued moments, such as "Too Bad About You," she cut up her emotional tormentor with a sly wit that easily did justice to her idols.