Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Head and the Heart with Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives and Black Girl

Friday, March 16, 2012

State Theatre, Portland, ME

I was giddy with excitement in the days leading up to seeing The Head and the Heart for the first time. I couldn’t sleep the night before. It was a rough Friday, both because I was exhausted from the sleepless night, but also because I realized I was coming down with something that afternoon. I tried and failed to take a nap after school. I picked up Michelle and we met a bunch of friends for dinner at our favorite Brunswick restaurant, Scarlet Begonias. We had a delicious, garlic-laden meal, and Chris, Kay, Michelle, and I piled into Chris’ fancy BMW to head to Portland for the show.

Finding parking in Portland at 7:30 on a Friday night turned out to be quite a challenge despite my legendary “parking karma,” so we got to the State Theatre a song or two into the first opening act’s set. I am really glad I had seen that there were two opening acts so I could mentally prepare for waiting that long to see a band I love so much. I headed straight to the floor to find a spot as close and as center as I could. I found some space in the center about eight rows back from the stage. Michelle met up with our friend Marian who’d injured herself at yoga, and sat with her for a while. Chris and Kay and the other Bree met up with me on the floor. I got to see Mary and Emily, two former students, and Owen and Caroline, two current students. My friends Mike and Kara texted me from the balcony to say hi. I’m lucky to be surrounded by so many people with such great taste in music.

Black Girls

I wasn’t quite sure how to take the first opening act—Richmond, Virginia’s Black Girls. They reminded me of UK rock band The Darkness (you might remember their song “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.”) I was caught off guard by how little their music complimented The Head and the Heart’s. I was confused, but I was entertained. The band was lovely to look at, and the lead singer’s face was expressive and outrageous and his falsetto was both lovely and hilarious at the same time. I take notes during shows because I have a terrible memory, and I wrote down “glam rock?” I thought I was inventing the perfect genre to name their style, but Black Girls’ Facebook page says their music is “glam, surf, pop, psychedelic southern soul.” I must be psychic. I think everyone should make up their own mind about music, so check out Black Girls’ video where they call their music “weird and offbeat” and get a taste of their sound.

Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives took the stage next. I really wanted to fall in love with them because Drew was so sweet. I liked their music fine, but I wasn’t so moved that I wanted to buy their album after the show. Drew said they were from the “other Portland” and they respected that we were there to see The Head and the Heart and they really, really appreciated our willingness to listen. He said all the right things. I’ve been going to shows lately where performers haven’t said much on stage, so I appreciated his friendly banter. He’s doing that part right, for sure. Drew played guitar, a bassist (Kris) also played upright bass, there was a drummer (Jeremiah), and a young Elton John look-a-like (Seth Schaper) played guitar and keys. I enjoyed his silk shirt, round sunglasses, and top hat. He and the drummer had come out to play tambourine with Black Girls. Now I knew who they were. I loved the harmonies that Drew and bassist Kris Doty created. Their music had a decidedly gospel feel. I think I would have liked them more if I’d heard them unplugged. This video of  “Bon Voyage Hymn,” is great, and it shows the power and certitude with which the group performed. They also had stage presence—not only was Drew social, but the group interacted with each other while they played, and the drummer jumped up on a speaker during one of the songs and rocked out on tambourine. They have showmanship, for sure, and I appreciate that.

Drew Grow & The Pastors' Wives

Drew said that they’d met The Head and the Heart at a festival years before, and that they’d hit it off and planned to go on tour together someday. They figured it would be the kind of tour where they’d have to call home for money. Instead, The Head and the Heart has made it kind of big, and Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives was thrilled to be along for the ride. They met up for the tour in Kansas, and since The Head and the Heart was playing a new song, which is apparently kind of scary for bands, Drew and the band decided to perform a new song, too. He introduced it by saying, “Of course I realize all of these songs are new to you” and he invited anyone who could see the lyrics near his feet to sing along with him. The new song was their best of the night. I think it may be called “Baby Doll”—it was a rocking song with a ton of power and a fair amount of jam time.

They invited Kelli Schaefer to join them for a song. Drew informed us that she and their drummer, Jeremiah Hayden, had gotten married a couple of weeks earlier and that this was their “Honeymoon Tour.” She had a fantastic voice. Drew acknowledged again that “opening acts are what you wait through” and thanked us profusely for being so kind and for making them feel at home even though they were so far from home. They closed with another gospel tune called “It All Comes Right” that you can download for free on their Bandcamp site. Josiah from The Head and the Heart came out to play tambourine with them on that last song (there were a lot of tambourine guest spots that night), and I liked the refrain, “I’m coming home to you.” It was a message appropriate for the end of a set.

The setup for Seattle’s The Head and the Heart took a really long time. I could hear people around me rumbling that waiting through two opening acts was frustrating. I know that for me, waiting until 10pm on a Friday night after a long week for a band I love was challenging. I plan on making a separate section on my blog for “concert audience etiquette,” but let me just mention that the break before the headlining band is my least favorite time at a show at bigger venues. It’s when people start to push their way to the front to enjoy the view from closer than where they deserve to be. Let me just say that if you want to see a band up close, you need to get there early. You can’t displace people who’ve earned those spots through their perseverance. Period. My friend Bree and some of the folks right around us rightfully nicknamed me “concert mom” that night. I’ve found that if you just call people on their rudeness, they know they’re wrong and they’ll back off. It happened more than a few times in a short period of time. I got to use my teacher voice and that teacher look that I’ve been developing for over a decade. It works.

The Head and the Heart finally took the stage and played a few songs without saying anything to us. Their third song was new—if I were guessing the title, I’d call it, “Back Home to You.” It was very rock anthemy (I just invented that word), and all I could picture was the tractor scene in Footloose (which is NOT a bad thing). There was a line I liked in it, something like “You’ve got to find your right story.” I knew the rest of the songs that night, and I love them all and was thrilled to see them performed in front of my own eyes.

The Head and the Heart (sadly minus gorgeous keyboardist Kenny Hensley, who I couldn't fit in the shot because I was too close)

If I had my way, I would hear all music acoustically. I know that’s not for everyone, but it informs you about what I like and why I might not be as drawn to certain groups. Josiah sang the last lines of “Honey Come Home” with no accompaniment. The crowd hushed and the room was silent and it was a beautiful moment. I heard beautiful vocal harmonies and clear lyrics all night, and it was wonderful to be in the presence of these songs I love so much. I want to say it was the best show of the year so far—I definitely expected that—but I needed more interaction with the group. If I wanted to just hear the songs, I could listen to their CD. When I see live music, I want to hear what a song or two is about, I want to learn something about the band, and I want to hear a story about something that happened during the recording process or has happened on tour. If at least a couple of those stories aren’t told, I am a little let down. I think that if we are paying to see a show, we should see a show. The Head and the Heart was a little cold. Josiah talked the most and did seem warm, but he was still very quiet. It made me wonder if the band is mostly shy or if they’re just not nice. I need the first one to be true and not the latter.

Josiah really led the group even though he was positioned to the side. He introduced a song (yay for that!), saying that he’d adapted a poem written by a friend about her boyfriend (now fiancé), and that he was going to their wedding in May. He called it a “very happy song.” I guessed correctly that he was talking about my favorite The Head and the Heart song, “Josh McBride.” It’s not on their self-titled album, but I am very much hoping it will be on whatever they release next (and I am SO looking forward to that). It has the most lovely lyrics, “You are in the seat beside me/You are in my dreams at night/You are in grandmother’s wisdom/You are in grandfather’s charm.” What a touching, beautiful sentiment. To me it’s so good, it’s almost heartbreaking.

Besides their power and harmonies, the thing I like best about The Head and the Heart are their lyrics. I especially love “Lost In My Mind,” that includes “Momma once told me/You’re already home where you feel love.” In the most amazing thing I’ve seen on stage in a little while (PHEW), every person from both opening bands and their tour managers (or so it seemed) came out on stage to sing, clap, and play percussion during “Lost In My Mind.” It was an unexpected and very welcome surprise.

Filling the stage for "Lost In My Mind"

Josiah said they’d play a couple more songs, and they did “Sounds Like Hallelujah” and then wrapped up with “Rivers And Roads.” Charity thanked the crowd and told us that the State Theatre was almost exactly like the Moore Theatre in Seattle, and that it was very humbling and unreal to them that they sold out the Portland, Maine version. Her voice soared on that last song. The whole group sounded beautiful. It had a super strong, harmonic, powerful finish and you could have heard a pin drop in the State during the last thirty seconds of the song that they did a capella. It might have been their best song of the night. My favorite part, though, was a group of guys next to us—maybe in their late teens—who were belting out the song along with the band. It was precious.

The band came out for an encore and Charity said they’d try to do a quiet song first. They played two songs for us. The first was “Chasing the Ghost,” which Charity and Jonathan did acoustically and is sadly not on their album. Everyone plugged in and the band left us with the song that made me fall in love with their music, “Down In The Valley.” My concert notebook has five little hearts drawn next to the song title.

Even in my immediate group, reviews of the show were mixed. Since then, I’ve talked to almost everyone I know who saw the show that night and we don’t all agree. I think The Head and the Heart sounded really good, I thought two opening acts was too many, and I desperately wanted more interaction with the band. Heather Browne, who wrote their bio for The Head and the Heart’s website, probably oversold them when she wrote, “Their shows are, simply, one hell of a lot of breathless fun. . . From the first months of the band’s life, their reputation as a phenomenal live band has preceded them wherever they play.” I do wholeheartedly agree, however, with her assessment that “For all the times your toes tap while enjoying this band, often the lightness will deceptively belie the depth of ache in the lyrics when you sit down to really listen.” I hope I just caught them on an off night, because The Head and the Heart has a big place in my heart. I’ll see them again this summer at the Newport Folk Festival (I get so overwhelmed when I think about the lineup!), and I’ll let you know (hopefully) that they were jubilant and effervescent.





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The Black Keys with Arctic Monkeys

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland

2010 was the best year of my life. I think about it from time to time, and I miss it. I remember when the clock struck midnight and it became 2011—I was sad. And I was at an Ellis Paul concert at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA, so that’s saying something. I think what made the year so special was that great friends and I went to Vieques, Puerto Rico in February and made a list of things we wanted to do in the year before our next birthdays. My list of “31 Things to Do Before Turning 31” was impressive (if I say so myself), and included things like—“ride in a hot air balloon,” “visit a friend abroad,” “learn how to make a mojito,” and “read Jane Eyre.” I slowly ticked things off my list. One of the biggest things I did that year was “visit Alaska.” I have always wanted to go, and my friend Brady spent summers there working as a hiking/rafting guide for people coming off cruise ships. He said I was more than welcome to visit, and I took him up on it. I went in July for about ten days, and really had the time of my life. I have never been sadder to leave a place in my life. It felt like summer camp. I almost cried when I left Skagway on the ferry back to Juneau. I think I would have postponed my return flight, but I had tickets to see Counting Crows the day after I landed (I saw Brandi Carlile and Good Old War the night before I left), and I was officiating my friends’ wedding a few days after that.

Skagway, Alaska

Alaska is where I met Nate Weiler (another guide and Brady’s friend) and saw Trampled By Turtles for the first time at the Red Onion in “downtown” Skagway. It’s also the place where I was introduced to The Black Keys. Brady made me a hearty oatmeal breakfast one of the first mornings I was there and then left for work. His housemate, the life-loving Jesse Guilliams, was getting ready for work a bit later and cranked some tunes on the CD player in their living room. He said to me, “You’ve GOT to hear this,” and out came “Everlasting Light” by The Black Keys. I rarely remember exactly where I was when I’ve heard most other songs for the first time, but that one was just too good. I was instantly a fan.

The Green House in Skagway. Here's where I heard "Everlasting Light" for the first time. Thanks, Jesse!

When I heard that the State Theatre was bringing The Black Keys to Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center, I was pumped. I bought my tickets the moment they went on sale. They were expensive (and for a lot of my friends, cost prohibitive). Ticketmaster is obviously evil, and I think tickets were just shy of $60 each with service fees. I haven’t paid that much for a show since last summer when I went to see U2 (the loves of my life) on back-to-back nights in Montreal at the Hippodrome with 80,000 other adoring fans. I love The Black Keys, but their tickets shouldn’t cost as much as U2’s.

Oh, hey Bono! You're 5 feet away. THIS is worth $60!

I eventually sold my other ticket to one of my seniors who really wanted to go but didn’t have the cash until nearer to the show and after they’d already sold out. The afternoon of the show, I was pretty entertained by the Facebook inquiries all over the place by people in search of tickets for the show, learning how much the tickets cost, and then deliberating over how much they really wanted to spend on tickets.

I had coffee that afternoon with two former students—one is a music aficionado who I met up with in December to see City and Colour in Boston where she goes to school. She told me she really likes Arctic Monkeys—the opening band slated for the show later that night.

City and Colour. That's my future husband, Dallas Green, on the left.

I’d talked to a bunch of my kiddos at school that day about our strategies for where to watch the show from that night. Since I was going alone, I banked on the idea that I could get there just before 7:30 when Arctic Monkeys took the stage and still get a single seat a few rows up from the floor very near the stage. I knew a lot of people going to the show, but decided I was not interested in fighting to hold my position on the floor to be with them. My strategy paid off super well. I got a killer parking spot really close to the Cumberland County Civic Center and found a single seat next to a really nice couple from New Hampshire four rows away from the stage. We chatted for a few minutes and realized we’d both seen Red Hot Chili Peppers with Foo Fighters at Cumberland County Civic Center in May of 2000. I told her that Dave Grohl had jumped up on a speaker right next to me during the show and she exclaimed, “That’s where we were, too!” It’s such a small world.

UK’s Arctic Monkeys took the stage. I immediately lamented the fact that I’d forgotten all of the many pairs of earplugs that I usually carry back at Sarah’s apartment in Brunswick. They were loud. I am wholly unfamiliar with their music, and frankly, every song just sounded loud, nearly incomprehensible, and repetitive to me. I started looking at my phone to see how long it would be until they were done about 15 minutes (okay, maybe 10 minutes) into their set. I know that sounds harsh, but their music is just not my thing. I am unabashedly a folk/indie girl. I am confident that if I knew their music (which their live show did not inspire me to explore), I would have been more interested. The lead singer didn’t say much, except to drop an F bomb from time to time to prove how much of a rock star he is. I didn’t hate two of the songs I heard, though—“Florescent Adolescent” and “Where The Sun Goes Down” weren’t bad. I mentioned my criticisms to some of my kids at school the next day, and even though most of them like the band and their music, they agreed with my assessment that their songs are all pretty similar and that the lead singer wasn’t particularly in touch with the crowd.

Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys wrapped up and immediately the crowd started surging. I generally like to be very close to the stage for shows, but that was exactly what I was expecting, so I was tickled to have my amazing seat above the melee. The event staff handled the crowd well. They were hydrating the people up front and kept things as safe as they could for everyone who’d packed in like sardines for the show on the floor. The room really started to feel full. I also got to people watch, and the crowd was quite diverse. Certainly, The Black Keys have all kinds of fans, but it was even more evident from glancing around the room how true that is.

The Black Keys opened with “Howlin’ For You”one of my favorite songs from their 2011 Brothers album. There were two young girls—sisters, I imagine—probably 10 and 12 years old, fist pumping directly in front of me. It might have been their first concert (very cool) and I thought they were adorable. They stayed for the whole show, too, on a school night and everything. The Black Keys played some other favorites—“Next Girl,” “Gold On The Ceiling,” and “Little Black Submarines.” I like “Little Black Submarines” a lot because it’s different than their other songs. It’s as close to a ballad as they come from The Black Keys. I love the acoustic introduction to the song on the album and like the spot-on line, “I should’ve seen it glow/But everybody knows/That a broken heart is blind.” “Tighten Up,” which is probably the song that made them an “it” band, sounded amazing. The drum part is so incredible (I could say that about every song, basically, but it’s really true here).

The Black Keys

It was great to hear even older stuff, including “Same Old Thing,” which has a lyric I like—“Just the same old thing/No matter how much love you try to bring/It’s just the same old thing/You got a callous heart/From being torn apart” and “I’ll Be Your Man” from their first album in 2002.

Somewhere towards the end of the night I noticed a tiny girl pop up on someone’s shoulders near the front of the crowd. I immediately recognized her as Kelly (a sophomore at my school). She stayed up there, totally rocking out, for the rest of the show. It was adorable. It made my night.

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are an incredible duo. They make so much glorious sound together. From Akron, Ohio, they’ve been friends forever, and were just inducted into their high school’s Hall of Fame. Patrick doesn’t just play the drums—there has to be a better word for it—he pummels them. He creates the heart of their sound. I like folk music, but something about the percussion—the driving force and intensity—well, it’s incredible. Dan’s voice is raspy but clear, and he plays a mean guitar. For their tour, they rounded out the sound with two more musicians—one on bass and the other alternating between guitar and keys. No one had a lot to say, but the music was superb.

They closed their set with “Lonely Boy.” If you haven’t seen the video for that, you may be the only one. Aspiring actor and security guard Derrick Tuggle memorized the song, made up a dance, and what became the video was done in a single take. To date, it’s gotten almost 11 million views. Everyone was on their feet dancing along. The crowd raucously demanded an encore, and they guys came back out a few minutes later; after something had been set up by the crew back stage.

"Everlasting Light"

They played “Everlasting Light,” the song that made me a fan, while a gigantic disco ball in the back of the auditorium lit up the room like it was a starry night. I think that song sounds best on the album, though—it loses some of the power live (I watched a lot of videos on YouTube of it before I came to this conclusion).  Dan’s falsetto on that song was impressive. We found out that what had been set up before the encore was a giant “The Black Keys” sign that lit up. It provided a very cool backdrop.


Dan thanked the crowd and told us that it was one of the best shows they’ve played in a long time (readers from away who’ve seen them live can let us know if he just says that in every city). His comment made me wonder what makes a great crowd in the eyes of performers when the venues are that big. They closed the night with a song from three albums back, “I Got Mine.” Dan really rocked out on guitar. I don’t know how Pat can play with that much energy every night. He was impressive. I’d happily see these guys again, but I’d pay less, and I think I’d brave the floor for the full effect. They sounded spot-on and are masters of their craft.



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I’m Famous!

The fabulous Charlie Gill, a 9th grader at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham where I teach, wrote an article about me for our school newspaper. Check it out!



I'm kind of a big deal. So is Charlie Gill.


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Company of Thieves with Zac Clark and the Young Volcanoes

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Café 939 at Berklee, Boston, MA

I’m always scouring concert calendars of the venues I love to see who’s coming up in order to piece together my own constantly evolving concert calendar. When I saw that Company of Thieves was coming to Café 939 at Berklee in Boston, I knew I recognized their name but couldn’t place them. I did a quick search and realized that my favorite local radio station, 98.9 WCLZ in Portland, plays their song “Oscar Wilde,” which I absolutely love. There’s a brilliant lyric in the song that goes, “We are all our own devil/We are our own devil/And we make this world/Our hell.” I decided to go see them to wrap up my February vacation week. I mentioned the show to a couple of Boston friends, and one of them was able to get me on the guest list for the show. [Artists and venues take note—I am happy to write about you and am always thrilled to be on your guest list! Seeing this much live music can really add up—so much that I refuse to do the math.]

I never miss an opening act (a firm rule of mine) and I like to be close to the stage, so I got to Café 939 about 20 minutes before doors were scheduled to open (it’s a tiny, intimate venue). There was already a line of 30 or so people in front of me. Company of Thieves had played there before, and many people I chatted with in line were back to see them. I took that as a good sign.

When the doors opened, I made my way to stage left where there was an open space very near the front and met a great group from New Hampshire, half of whom, I quickly learned, were related to Zac Clark—the opening act. We chatted about Zac a bit (they were all so nice) and they are clearly really proud of him. It’s nice to stand next to nice people at shows.

Zac Clark and the Young Volcanoes

Zac Clark and the Young Volcanoes took the stage, and I was delighted to see they all had fabulous beards. It’s hard not to judge a book by it’s cover, so I suppose I was expecting indie rock or alt country, but Zac Clark and the Young Volcanoes’ music is pop—totally upbeat and melodic. Zac has a beautiful, clear voice with a great tone. He sings a lot of high notes and makes it sound effortless. I was instantly wowed and surprised at how polished their sound is. It’s hard not to compare their sound to Gavin DeGraw because Zac plays piano (his band mates play drums and guitar). If you like Gavin DeGraw, James Morrison, Josh Kelley, or Jason Mraz, I bet you’ll dig Zac Clark and the Young Volcanoes.

The guys played some love songs, and I especially liked “Sing You To Sleep,” which goes, “If you say that you think you can’t believe me/I’ll wait right here while you’re making up your mind/I don’t want to take you home/But I keep quiet because I think you know/That I just want to sing you to sleep.” “Wait” is an upbeat, hopeful song that includes the lines, “Swear I’ll keep your heart/Safe here from the start/Something I never thought was necessary/But you live and learn” and “I’ll wait for you.” “Traffic” is a lovely, slow ballad—“And the traffic’s not so bad/Like we paid for this in advance/With all the roadblocks in our past/If you think you’re letting go/Know all you have to do is ask/And wait for the angel on the dashboard/To guide me home to you at last.” “Happy, With a Secret” is about a girl that’s up to no good—“It’s your attention to small details that makes you such a good liar/But it’s your penchant for leaving trails that sets your alibis on fire” and “You shake like someone’s who’s got something to hide/Is it your lips on his lips or is it your clothes by his bedside?” Sometimes love doesn’t go our way, eh? They covered “Wherever You Are” by Madi Diaz in their set and finished with a beautiful cover of “I Shall Be Released.”

I went over to see Zac in between sets because I definitely didn’t want to miss the chance to buy their album. He and I chatted and he is so genuinely nice and gave me a copy of his album to listen to on the way home to Maine. I think they are definitely in the early stages of branding themselves, though, because getting your hands on their music is not that easy. Zac—let me know if there’s a bandcamp site or some other way people can get your music if they can’t make it to a show. I’d be happy to add that information here for folks. I listened to their album the whole way home to Maine—I think at least four or five times the whole way through. It’s totally listenable and upbeat without being repetitive.

I had to leave my conversation with Zac to make it back up to my spot with his family (which they graciously saved for me) because Company of Thieves had taken the stage. I am confident that I initially watched with raised eyebrows and said “wow” out loud a couple of times because I was blown away. Talk about stage presence and power.

Genevieve and Marc

Genevieve’s voice is Bjork-like, and she reminds me a bit of an upbeat Samantha Farrell (she kind of looks like Sam, too). Her voice is raspy, breathy, and powerful. So impressive. She has the musical symbol forte tattooed on her arm—it’s the symbol for “loud”—I chuckled when I noticed it because it’s so appropriate. She’s a force of nature. The band sounded great—the guys played guitar, drums, bass, and keys. I was six inches from Eitan on the keys, so close I could have played them (if I knew how).

I am resisting the urge to reach over and play the keys.

The band really shines on “Gorgeous/Grotesque”—Genevieve introduced it saying it was about our relationship with the environment. She said, “Syrup” was a true story. I particularly appreciated the line “I know I made a mistake because I missed you/It’s a damn shame we couldn’t be.” The crowd was thrilled when she asked if they’d sing “Tallulah” with the band. Genevieve said it was about Tallulah, Louisiana and towns being left behind. I really liked “After Thought,” too—“I am not my problems/I am not my money’s worth/Where I went to school/Order of my birth/And I am not the answer/I am not the aftermath/Or picture of the past.”

Company of Thieves came back and played a three-song encore. The first was Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.” Genevieve said it summed up what the band had been going through for a long time. Someone at the show recorded it and I hope you’ll watch. You can hear the guys from Zac Clark and the Young Volcanoes singing in the background. It was so beautiful and I believed every word she sang. They played “Oscar Wilde”—definitely their biggest hit from their 2009 debut album, Ordinary Riches. “Oscar Wilde” even got Company of Thieves noticed by Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates. They filmed an episode of his popular internet show “Live From Daryl’s House” in 2009. Marc told us how genuinely appreciative they were of the audience that night. He said they’d been playing in Boston since 2009 and it had never been like that. Company of Thieves ended the night with “Won’t Go Quietly,” which has driving percussion and great harmonies. Genevieve even banged on the cymbals a bit. It was a rowdy way to end the night. I can’t wait to see this group again. Catch them while you can still see them in smaller venues—they are going big places soon.

Genevieve banging on the cymbals

I’ve listened to Company of Thieves’ 2011 album, Running From a Gamble, a bunch since that night. I love that Genevieve and Marc recorded videos of themselves playing almost all of the songs in unique locations before the album was released and posted them to their YouTube channel for fans to enjoy. I especially like “Queen of Hearts”—“I’m gonna paint myself aside/Like something second in line,” “Never Come Back,” which really showcases Genevieve’s powerful voice, and “Death of Communication,” which is such a strong song with the fabulous lyrics, “Honestly my honesty/Was always what I gave for taking your bread/I never thought you would have hung it high above/As you did over my head/Ever since you came into my life/I always felt a little misled/I tried to read the signs/Tried to stay in the lines/But the shapes were always changing.”

Company of Thieves has a great story. Vocalist Genevieve Schatz met guitarist Marc Walloch in Chicago on a train through a mutual friend. She had run away from a “dysfunctional home” and was living on her own and “home-schooling herself through her senior year of high school.” They connected over music instantly and starting getting together regularly to write songs and play together. In her own words on their website, “we saved each other.” About their past, Genevieve wrote, “we weren’t those kids who were in cliques at school. We were everyone’s friends. We were curious and lonely and desperately trying to see the world beyond the manicured lawns and paved parking lots of Wal-Marts in the suburbs of Chicago. We just want to share our music with you, with love!” Company of Thieves has nothing but love and appreciation for their fans because they respect the connection that people have to the group and their music. About themselves, they say “we have a fire in our hearts that is almost impossible to match—that moves as quickly as the train we met on. The truth is…we never got off that train. It’s ever in motion. This band is bigger than us.” I think fans of Company of Thieves feel like they are part of something special. It’s one of the stories of nice, hard working, creative, dedicated people actually finishing first for a change. How refreshing.



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There Is No Sin with Old Soul

Thursday, February 23, 2012

One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME

When One Longfellow Square tells me not to miss a show, I listen. Earlier this winter, I got an email from OLS about how we should absolutely not miss Lake Street Dive, so I didn’t. It was easily one of the best shows I saw in 2011 (and I saw 52 shows, so that’s saying something!). Recently, I got another of these emails from OLS touting There Is No Sin and Old Soul as “two of the finest folk acts in Maine (or anywhere!) and not nearly enough people know it.” Since I’m writing a live music blog primarily about music in Maine, obviously I pride myself on being “in the know” about local bands. I watched There Is No Sin’s “El Cid” video on YouTube and decided they were definitely worth my time. My Portland musician friend, Max Garcia Conover, liked the video, too, so he, Sophie and I gathered for There Is No Sin’s CD release show two Thursdays ago. It was during my February vacation, so I had to look up the date (a sure sign you’re on vacation) for my notes that I jotted down during the show.

Old Soul

Old Soul opened the show. Six musicians from the greater Portland area and further south played piano/tambourine, djembe?, bass, drums, clarinet, and guitar. I was a little distracted at first by lead singer Mike O’Hehir’s arresting smile. He was clearly happy to be on stage and bantered shyly with the audience. Mike had picked up one of his band mates from Boston just moments before the show, and I could see/hear that they don’t get to play together as much as they’d probably like as a whole band. Their sound firmed up with each song they played together, though. I liked “Red & Gold,” which includes the optimistic lyric “I feel a lot of changes/Coming our way/Let’s dance.” They played a new song without a title that had a great country vibe, including the lines, “I saw you out of the corner of my tired eyes” and “I’ve been lost before, but I ain’t blind.” I’m looking forward to hearing that on their next album. Their first album, Old Soul, was at least partially funded through I read the “about us” section that Mike wrote to solicit funds for the project, which read as a band biography and a very sweet love story between him and band mate Danielle Savage.

I’ve listened to Old Soul a lot in the last couple of weeks, especially when multitasking, and fully agree with Mike Olcott’s review in the Portland Press Herald that, “on the unassuming self-titled debut from the Portland-based trio Old Soul, Mike O’Hehir, Danielle Savage and Brendan Shea have harnessed a lovely, low-burning sound and splashed it across nine rainy-morning songs.” I especially like “Blackbird Calling” and “Red & Gold.”

HERE IS A CONCERT ETTIQUETTE LESSON that some folks sitting in front of me that night made me want to share with you:

Put your cell phone away during a small folk show at a tiny venue—ESPECIALLY if you are sitting in the FRONT ROW just inches from the stage! Texting and perusing the interwebs is actually quite distracting to those of us who are sitting around you. Show some respect to the artists who are performing. Also, please refrain from having lengthy full-volume conversations during the performances. I was pretty surprised by my neighbors at the show. Many years ago, a woman at One Longfellow sitting in my row actually took out a shaker and started percussing along with the band. Oh my.

The email from One Longfellow also informed me that There Is No Sin’s album, We Are Revealed, was chosen Best Album of 2011 by Sam Pfiefle of the Portland Phoenix. They wrote, “we HIGHLY recommend you seriously check out these bands and consider coming to this show. You’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t” and “we can’t recommend this show enough. Two of Maine’s finest acoustic acts.” Again, I listen to what OLS tells me—I’m a member and I think the folks there have impeccable taste. I was really excited by the few songs I was able to hear online, including this video of  “Arrive.”

There Is No Sin

I don’t have much to say about the There Is No Sin’s “show” though, because there wasn’t much of one. I think OLS may have gotten my expectations up a bit too high. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the music and I’ve listened to We Are Revealed basically on repeat since that night, but There Is No Sin is essentially front man/guitarist/songwriter/singer Troy Keiper, and he said very, very little all night. He did say that they’d play the new CD straight through, and they did. He had a pianist/bassist, drummer, and guitarist accompany him. A music video for “Practice Crawling,” which Troy said he really loved and said just a few words about, played on repeat for the entire night. I thought the video was hilarious at first—a guy in a monkey suit going through the daily grind at the office, but when I realized that the video was going to loop all night, I was sad to have the distraction. I wanted to be able to better focus on the lyrics—because that’s where Troy really excels.

Troy Keiper and "Guns" the monkey

“El Cid,” We Are Revealed’s second song, is upbeat even with the lyrics, “And I wanted to kiss you/I wanted to tell you/I could fix you/But I’d have been lying to myself” and “you’d tell me to listen/I weathered the talk/But I was tired of the script.” “Untitled” is my favorite song on the new album. It belongs on a movie soundtrack. It has a haunting electric guitar riff and gentle acoustic guitar in the front. It goes, “Were you sober?/It’s me/When I ask you to listen/Self help revival/Is a mirror in the hall/Your head tilted sideways/Asleep on the phone/Answer one thing/And I’ll leave you alone” and later, “At the gates of that prison/Did you give it a chance/In the back of your mind/Was it part of your plan?/Were you wanting to find me/Half hoping you’d lose/Half hoping I’d save you/From the past that you choose/You’re like a child/Whose father never comes.” These songs are so dark and intense—I’d love to know what inspired any of them. Maybe if I caught There Is No Sin on another night I’d find out? I am not so sure. I think Troy may just let the music speak for itself.

“Answers” includes the fascinating lyric, “I’m losing faith in what I say/You sit staring in a car park/Expecting me to follow/I’ve learned to walk the other way/And out of all my answers/The ones that I’ve recanted/I regret most what I couldn’t say.” “Misled” reminds me a lot of Maine singer-songwriter Christian Cuff (who I really like and you should check out). “Inhale” is a striking song—very stripped down. “I was the boy who dreamed I could make it/I was the boy who tried to stop leaving/These lights aren’t helping/And I’m too lost now/I wanted my words to save you somehow.” It goes on, “I was the boy who wanted to save you/I was the boy you thought was asleep/I know the lines that you wanted to save you/I know the things that you wanted to keep.”

There Is No Sin ended the night with two songs from their first CD (I know because Troy said those just those few words to us before playing them) that were relatively upbeat. I left the show is sort of a daze—the lyrics are very heavy and I would have loved to have learned more about any of the songs, the recording process of the new album, or anything biographical about the band itself. Instead, I left with a head full of melancholy songs spinning in my head, with essentially nothing to go on to help me process them.

I agree with Sam Pfeifle’s assessment that “there is an easy world-worn quality to the record.” I love We Are Revealed and I’ve listened to it dozens of times since that night. I’d say that if you have to make the choice between seeing these bands live and buying their albums, though—go for the albums. You will definitely get your money’s worth there.




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Chamberlin, Tan Vampires, and Worried Well

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Empire Dine and Dance, Portland, Maine

The beauty of being relatively unfamiliar with bands I see hopefully means I’ll learn the act of brevity when recapping the shows. That was more than 1,000 words ago—oops! I guess today was not the day to learn to be concise

Sorry this post is so belated—I was busy seeing shows during February vacation week and then I’ve been sick the whole week since. I haven’t done much more than watch two seasons of Downtown Abbey in the last seven days. I need to keep resting to be ready to enjoy The Black Keys on Tuesday! I’m so excited!

I’ve known about Chamberlin for about six months now. I heard about them when they were asking their fans to vote on which songs to cover for their Cabin Covers EP. I hope their cover of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” got them some deserved notice. It sounds great. When Hurricane Irene hit and devastated parts of Vermont—Chamberlin’s home—they decided to donate all of the proceeds from the sale of their EP to Hurricane Irene relief in Vermont. Good guys, eh? I heard that Chamberlin was coming to Portland last November and missed them, so when I heard they were coming back in February, I put them on my “definitely going” list. I am often in search of concert buddies, and Max and Sophie, after listening to some of Chamberlin’s videos on YouTube, were convinced they should go with me.

We decided to have dinner at Tu Casa in Portland, and then went back to Max and Sophie’s before the show. The poster for the event said the show was at 9pm. The website for Empire Dine and Dance didn’t specify doors vs. show, so we decided to head over at 9:30pm. I should mention that this was a school night for me. When we arrived at Empire at about 9:40pm, we thought we might have missed some of the first opening band, Worried Well. We were wrong. Doors had just opened and Worried Well didn’t go on until 10pm. Max was feeling a little under the weather and I had three ninth grade classes the next day and needed to be up at 6:15am to teach my kiddos about the President’s Cabinet.

Worried Well

Portland-based Worried Well had a lot of sound for just two people—one on electric guitar and the other on drums. Lead singer Daniel James had a strong voice. Their harmonies were solid, and the drumming was tight. They reminded me of Jump, Little Children, who I liked a lot about a decade ago. Sophie leaned over and said Daniel sounded a little like Chris Carrabba from Dashboard Confessional. I am not sure how he would take that because some musicians might not want to be associated with “emo” music—but from Sophie and I, it’s a compliment. Now I’m thinking about Chris Carrabba and swooning. Back to business—Daniel and drummer Cam Jones said they’d been in the studio recording that day and were making good progress on their upcoming album. They’d also recorded a video for “Human Beans” in Deering Oaks in early February. I love Daniel’s excellent moustache in the video. I talked to both guys after their set (they were both very nice) and Cam told me that they’ll be playing Brothers by The Black Keys in its entirety at The Big Easy after The Black Keys show on Tuesday. I would definitely see these guys again.

Tan Vampires

New Hampshire’s Tan Vampires took the stage at almost 11pm. I started to estimate the number of hours of sleep I’d be getting before school in the morning and got a little anxious because the band I’d really come to see was still obviously about an hour away from taking the stage. The first line out of the lead singer’s voice was captivating, something like “on my hands there are bands to remind me of the friends I’m trying to remember.” I was instantly hooked. They were five handsome, flannel-clad guys on stage, two with some of the sickest beards I’ve seen in ages. They played two guitars, bass, drums, and keys. I really like their sound and recommend checking out their music on their website and YouTube channel. They remind me some of Young the Giant, who I love and who I won’t be seeing in Boston on Thursday because I didn’t buy tickets early and now they are sold out and I am sad. The keyboard adds a little Death Cab for Cutie-ness to Tan Vampires’ sound, too. I was especially drawn to their lyrics, though, and was surprised at how well they captured the room during the 11 o’clock hour on a school night at bar in the big city. I remember hearing a line like “you can help me forget/Just lock those memories in your chest.” Their songwriting got them a nod from NPR’s All Songs Considered, too. I’m looking forward to hearing more of their music and becoming much more familiar with it. They joked about their band name and how they weren’t the sparkling kind of vampire (a Twilight reference I imagine many of you won’t get), but that their t-shirts are glow in the dark. Their website says they are coming back to Empire on April 6, and I definitely recommend going.


So, the band I came to see took the stage at midnight. Awesome. Empire, you’re killing me. I am going to have to start coming to shows there during the school year on weekends and vacations only if we can’t get the evening started a little earlier. I will say that the midnight appearance of Vermont’s Chamberlin (I’m just now realizing that there was a ME-NH-VT trifecta represented that night) was stressful and I knew I was going to have to leave early in their set if I was going to get any useful sleep before school in the morning. I was sad about that, too, since I’d already waited at least three months to see them. They have a great sound, much louder and rockin’ that night than the videos on their YouTube channel had led me to believe they’d be. They had two guitars, bass, drums, and keys and jammed out a lot more than I’d expected. They can all really play; their lyrics were great and their harmonies solid. The lead singer can sing. His voice is amazing, actually. I like the lyrics from the title track of their album, Bitter Blood, and we can all relate to the line, “I felt in my bones what turned out to be true.” I also love their song, “Turn Around,” that has the great line, “my memories are silent films/Playing in my mind.” I was really, really sad to leave early, and begrudgingly left at 12:38am.  I got maybe four and a half hours of sleep and had a lot of adrenaline in my veins the next morning to teach my kids about the President’s Cabinet. In retrospect, I think I would have made it okay through the teaching day on Friday if I’d stayed to the end of their set, but I’m looking forward to seeing Chamberlin again when I don’t have somewhere important to be the next day. I think they have a tremendous sound and are definitely up and coming and you will be hearing about them more (and not just from me) for sure.




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