Jay Som at Brick & Mortar Music Hall, by Robert Alleyne
Jay Som (photo: Robert Alleyne)

“It’s very weird and strange to be here,” said Jay Som’s Melina Duterte, at her band’s vinyl debut show in San Francisco on November 18. Turn Into, Duterte’s first album on Polyvinyl, was initially released a year ago on the musician's Bandcamp page. Since that time, Duterte has toured with Mitski and Japanese Breakfast, headlined her own West Coast tour, and signed a contract with Polyvinyl Records. Last Friday’s show at Brick & Mortar celebrated the album’s re-release by the label, and in doing so, highlighted how much Duterte has achieved in 12 months. “It’s been a wild ride,” Duterte said onstage.

As Jay Som took the stage, the celebratory atmosphere in the crowd made it clear that they were familiar faces to most, if not all. While touring, Duterte plays with a quartet, utilizing members of her other local band, Summer Peaks. The band took several breaks during the show to shout out members of the crowd, thanking their friends for coming to the show. “Please support your local musicians,” Duterte said. “They need you now more than ever.”

Onstage, the band was bathed in projected flower images, and joined by a Grumpy Cat balloon floating in the corner of the stage. The flowers, like the comfortable banter between the band and the crowd, felt familiar — reminiscent of Turn Into’s cover art, a photo that Duterte snapped on her iPhone. The projected images served as a reminder for both how personal Jay Som is to Duterte, and how far it has now traveled.

While the whole of the live band is made up of talented local musicians — in the crowd I heard whispers of other local projects fronted by Jay Som members — it is Duterte’s unique voice and lyrical qualities that really shine onstage. Husky and compelling, Duterte sings sickly-sweet lyrics that weave in and out of metaphor. Juxtaposed with the straightforward, slicing guitar and bass riffs of the band, Duterte’s lyrics wander, painting strange and poetic narratives.

Turn Into is an accomplished first album, and Jay Som is by no means a debut band. Before being picked up by Polyvinyl, Duterte uploaded songs to Bandcamp for years and played local shows in the Bay Area. That foundation of Bay Area support was clear on Friday night, and it felt good to be in the room with familiar fans. Duterte is right — local artists need support now more than ever. And if San Francisco can incubate an artist as remarkable as Duterte, the city has more than enough support to give.

Rollicking through Turn Into, with projected light flickering on their faces and instruments, the Jay Som five-piece stole laughs and smiles onstage throughout the set. It felt familial — like Turn Into had returned to the Bay Area, which welcomed it with open arms. “I see so many people I love and respect in the audience,” noted Oliver Pinnell, Jay Som’s second guitarist. “Thanks for being with us.”

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