"I was so afraid when I walked to the middle of the floor," the Lawrence native recalls. "I was too drained to stay and watch the games."
By contrast, Paludan's late-April gig at Jilly's seemed like a low-stakes affair. The bar's merchandise bears the motto "I wasn't there and I didn't do that," and all of 20 Kansas Citians could have invoked that slogan if asked about seeing this show. Even those in attendance weren't always attentive. During Paludan's opening number, "Like Ophelia," a patron's loud conversation with a bartender about baldness obscured her lilting melody.
When playing for a handful of sporadically interested people, motivation, not nervousness, tends to be a performer's biggest problem. But this was a solo show from someone used to playing in bands or working with ensemble casts, and for Paludan, these self-written songs demanded a new level of emotional engagement.
"I'm a good interpreter of other people's songs, but it's so different to put yourself in that situation where people are listening to your music," Paludan says. "People are really paying attention, or at least you hope they are."
Paludan also writes material for the shoe-gazer supergroup Olympic Size, in which she harmonizes with guitarist Billy Smith (Dirtnap, Roman Numerals). Sometimes, she finds that group's fans excessively respectful.
"When we played at the Pistol [Social Club, in January], it was dead silent," she says. "People were shushing. It was kind of a buzzkill."
With her cover band, the Metropolitans (which performed the Crow songs at the Holiday Inn), and the wedding band Kokomo (she swears that the risible Beach Boys number isn't its signature song), Paludan constantly competes with conversation.
"It helps me not to take myself too seriously," she says. "My close friends make fun of me sometimes, saying, 'Oh, you're a wedding singer.' I'm like, 'Do you make money singing? Well, then you better be quiet.'"
Paludan quit her corporate customer-service position earlier this month, opting for a flexible part-time job. "I could get out and pavement-pound and work only as a musician, but then I'd be gigging every night," she says. "I want to do that, but not playing covers. When I play with Olympic Size, I hardly ever make more than $50. But I don't play original music for the money. I'm not that mercenary."
While balancing a 40-hour-a-week job and four bands (she also sings for the Belles), Paludan spent the past three years completing tracks for her solo debut, Princess in the Tower. The album incorporates an encyclopedic range of elements world-beat percussion, jazzy inflections, glazed organ tones, forlorn country guitar and her confidently seductive delivery is ethereal, almost ghostly.
Paludan re-created the record's lush sound at her CD-release party at the Record Bar on April 12 with a band that included Olympic Size's Wade Williamson and Kokomo's David Williams, but since then she has played alone and acoustically. Her hooks remain inviting, and her voice might be even more impressive in a stripped-down setting, but these shows don't hint at the record's rock-out moments or atmospheric appeal. They sell her as a singer-songwriter in the folk realm, but she has more in common with Sinead O'Connor, Peter Gabriel and Eleni Mandell.
Until Paludan can recruit a full-time backing band with members who can tour, she's relying on radio play (Sonic Spectrum recently spun her track "Let It Go") and streams on her Web site (myspace.com/kirstenpaludan) to present her songs to the public in finished form. She also sells Princess at Metropolitans gigs, where she slips a solo song or two into the sets.
"You finally have the CD in hand and think, Oh, I'm done, but then you realize there's so much more to do," she says. "You don't want to sit with 1,000 CDs in your room. That's bullshit."
A theater veteran, Paludan adopts accents during conversation, from valley girl to faux rock star (as when making grandiose predictions about her "second world tour"). She has an explosive laugh and punctuates thoughts with a playful, extended-tongue pfft. However, live, she doesn't sell the desperate longing of "To Be With You" or the sarcastic sass of "Poison."
"I can be overly dramatic but not onstage," she says. "I don't think about inhabiting the characters. I'm so in the moment, and all I think about is doing the music."
Paludan had a walk-on role on Melrose Place and a bit part in Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil. She makes her most recent film cameo as a singing Southern belle in Kevin Willmott's C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America.
"My cleavage is like a third character in that scene," she marvels.
Paludan won't be borrowing that costume for her upcoming concerts, even though it could certainly help the headcount.
"I try not to wear anything sexy onstage," she says. "It's hard enough to be taken seriously, given that music is such a male-dominated world. And I'd really like people to be focusing on my songs instead of my boobies."