Life begins at 30 when you finally start to have some idea of who you really are. That's the concept of Marissa Mulder's new show, "Instincts," which played at the Metropolitan Room on Friday evening. The singer, who recently turned 30, said she had decided not to hang on to the past and to begin trusting intuition to guide her.
In one sense "Instincts" is a continuation of "Living Standards," Ms. Mulder's last show, in which she proposed new candidates for an expanded American songbook. But in her new show, whose songs come from all over the place, everything has a personal association. Ms. Mulder is a wonderful natural storyteller who reminisces about growing up in Syracuse as the daughter of newspaper people. The most vivid of several characters was a beloved grandfather whom she described in an exquisite vignette that prefaced Stephen Sondheim's "I Remember."
As much as she personalized song lyrics, Ms. Mulder avoided self-dramatization. The strong, spare arrangements of her pianist, Nate Buccieri, left room to savor the remarkable subtlety of her interpretations, in which every word and inflection in her deceptively light, girlish voice is made to count. Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket" and the Elton John hit "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" became personal statements of someone at a crossroads. "You Fascinate Me So," by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, was heated to a sizzle.
A measure of Ms. Mulder's extraordinary sensitivity is her mastery of both Mr. Sondheim and Tom Waits, songwriters who have little in common.
A measure of Ms. Mulder's extraordinary sensitivity is her mastery of both Mr. Sondheim and Tom Waits, songwriters who have little in common. Her rendition of "Losing My Mind," from "Follies," transformed a middle-aged woman's torch song into the saucy retort from a young woman to a manipulative boyfriend. The words "You said you loved me/or were you just being kind?" were tinged with sarcasm.
Mr. Waits's "Take It With Me" became a hymn of enfolding sung by a tired, aging narrator who muses, "It's got to be more than flesh and bone/All that you've loved is all that you own." You might say that Ms. Mulder is already looking forward to looking back.