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Brandi Carlile and Anderson East

Friday, May 22, 2015

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I’ve let myself take a month or so off during the transition to summer vacation to recharge, but I’ve seen a handful of shows recently, so I decided I’d better start writing!

I got to see the impeccable Brandi Carlile over Memorial Day weekend at the State Theatre. She sold out the State in just two days. She’s on my top five live acts list for sure, and she and the twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) always bring all they have and put on a fantastic show. I most recently got to see them live during last fall’s phenomenal “Pin Drop Tour” at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where they played to a packed house without even a single microphone—it was stunning.

I drove to the show with a gaggle of girlfriends who have become my constant companions in Brandi show-going, and I’ll always remember that it was on that car ride to Portland for this particular show that I learned one of my dear friends is pregnant! What great news to start a great night! I separated from the group and skipped dinner so I could snag a good spot in line and ran into my friends Kay and Kate. We got a great spot standing second row center and Marian and my most steadfast concert friend, Colin, joined us, too. I was standing there when a familiar looking woman asked if I was Bree and reminded me that her name was Heather and we’d met at a phenomenal Brandi show (one of the best shows I’ve ever been to) standing in exactly the same spot back in the fall of 2012. Another happy show omen!

Southern R&B artist Anderson East and his and band took the stage. I was surprised at the size of the group—he brought a small horn section and a pianist on top of the usual suspects. I’d heard one of his songs, “Say Anything” featuring Jill Andrews previously of theeverybodyfields on Grey’s Anatomy and liked it. His raspy R&B sound was solid, but without knowing his music well, the songs all sounded quite the same. He made a smart move (as a mostly unknown show opener) and played a couple of covers—“Knock on Wood” and “Tupelo Honey”—to show off his vocal talent and give the crowd something to sing along to. 98.9 WCLZ is currently playing his song “Satisfy Me”.

Anderson East

Anderson East

This was the first night of Brandi’s Firewatcher’s Daughter tour, and the crowd was revved up. I’m sure the band appreciated our good energy. We did get to hear a handful of older songs throughout the night since this show was to support their new album, but I was a little surprised that they played their best-known song, “The Story,” second. I love, love, love “The Eye.” The girls and I got to hear it for the first time last fall in Portsmouth, and it’s stunning. Brandi said that “The Eye” is “what we’re all about as a band” because she and the twins sing all together in harmony—without a lead singer. As I’m writing this post I keep calling it “their” show and “their” song because Brandi is not just Brandi. I first saw her with Kim open for Ray LaMontagne at Berklee Performance Arts Center in Boston back in 2005 and Tim and Phil Hanseroth (“The Twins”) were right by her side, even back at the beginning. They are a musical team in every way and saying you’re going to see a Brandi Carlile show is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Brandi Carlile with "The Twins," Tim and Phil Hanseroth

Brandi Carlile with “The Twins,” Tim and Phil Hanseroth

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A little girl in the front row was wearing a birthday cake hat and Brandi pulled her up on stage. We sang Happy Birthday to Tiernan (who was celebrating her 8th birthday in the best possible way!) and Brandi asked if there was a song she really wanted to hear. Tiernan requested “Keep Your Heart Young” and stayed right up there with the band and sang it with Brandi into a shared microphone. It was a precious moment and quite the birthday present!

Happy 8th Birthday, Tiernan!

Happy 8th Birthday, Tiernan!

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Brandi took another couple of requests and “Turpentine” came up. She split up into three sections and taught us our sing along parts and we put it all together. It’s one of my favorite songs to hear live. I was glad to hear “That Year,” too, and Brandi played it solo for us. Brandi, Tim, and Phil unplugged and came to the very edge of the stage (right above us!) and sang “Beginning to Feel the Years,” completely unplugged. It was amazing, and I was so impressed that the sold out State Theatre was silent throughout the song. They really have an impressively strong command of a crowd!

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“Beginning to Feel the Years" unplugged

“Beginning to Feel the Years” unplugged

Brandi took to the piano and played a beautiful version of Hozier’s “Work Song” that she said she sings for her daughter Evangeline. Family has become an important theme for Brandi and the Twins and she often talks about it at their shows. She introduced “I Belong to You” saying that there’s an intensity in loving your family so much and knowing that you could lose them. “Wherever Is Your Heart,” which is another standout song on The Firewatcher’s Daughter, continues the theme and is another of my favorites. They closed with “Dreams,” but came back for two separate encores during which Brandi graciously thanked us for bearing with them on the first night of the tour while they worked all of the kinks out. They covered Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” and The Avett Brothers’ “Murder in the City” to end the night.

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Seeing Brandi and the Twins is always a phenomenal experience. Their songs are heartfelt and compelling, their harmonies stellar, and the power of their voices is kind of out of this world. I always leave their shows blown away, grateful, and truly sad to go. Until next time!

xo,

bree

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The Ballroom Thieves with Tall Heights and the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra

Friday, April 24, 2015

Empire, Portland, Maine

*I think nearly seven weeks to process the strange events of this night is long enough. I wrote the bulk of this post just days after the show, but was so weirded out by the behavior of a woman in the crowd that I lost focus and never went back to finish the article. Since this show, The Ballroom Thieves have released a new Audiotree session AND have been invited to play their first Newport Folk Festival set! I am thrilled for them. The long story short of this article is that they are phenomenal live and when you go to a concert, you should be nice to the people around you.*

This was the best/worst show I’ve seen in a long while and I am still processing the events of the evening. I’ll explain. My sweetie and I planned our April vacation getaway around going to this show. I love Boston’s The Ballroom Thieves and have seen them a half dozen times and even wrote a preview piece for this show and a review of their debut album, A Wolf in the Doorway, which I rarely do. The last time I saw them play was also with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra, which is incredible. I’m a sucker for a string section, so getting to see The Thieves play with an orchestra is a real treat.

Jeff and I wrapped up our adventure in the Kennebunks with an afternoon in Portland, including a trip to the Love Locks fence and a delicious dinner at El Rayo before the show. We stood outside in line at Empire just before doors at 9PM, met up with my concert friend Colin outside, and made our way front and center to the stage so we could be close. It was not very crowded in the front when Tall Heights took the stage. My friend Marian joined us, and then Kate, too. It’s rare for me to be at a show with such a posse, but the Thieves are just that good.

Sadly, there was a loud woman standing right behind me for the bulk of Tall Heights’ set talking with her friends about how “great” the band was and how she’d “pick up the CD after the show.” I was so happy they were happy, but they were also five feet from the performers and one foot from my ear having this ongoing conversation at full volume. *This leads me to concert etiquette tip #1 of the night—if you really must have a (long, loud) conversation, please move away from the stage where people who are probably bigger fans than you are trying to listen.* Unfortunately, I was distracted for most of Tall Heights’ set, but I always appreciate their lovely harmonies, and I enjoyed that Eric Jones (manager of The Ballroom Thieves and Darlingside) played drums with them for a lot of their set. Tim Harrington (guitar) joked that although we were there to celebrate the release of The Ballroom Thieves’ new album, their exciting debut of a Tall Heights tank top surely was more important. He dubbed the night “Tanksgiving.” They wrapped their set with “Spirit Cold,” with the delightful Maine Youth Rock Orchestra as featured performers.

Tall Heights' Paul Wright on cello

Tall Heights’ Paul Wright on cello

Tall Heights' Tim Harrington on guitar

Tall Heights’ Tim Harrington on guitar

Eric Jones on percussion

Eric Jones on percussion

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I won’t hold it against you if you skip this next paragraph, but HOLY COW, I was NOT expecting this to happen at a folk rock show:

This is when my night got really interesting. The gist is that the woman who was so loud and chatty right behind me during Tall Heights physically pushed me out of the way and stood between my sweetie and me at the stage. I was stunned. We were at a folk show, after all, and she was definitely in her thirties. She told me I’d been “taking up the room of three people” during the opening act and she intended to stand in front of me for the rest of the night. I’m not sure how she ended up moving away from me, but then she started poking her elbows and knees into Jeff to try to finagle a spot in front of him. SERIOUSLY? She told him that he was “rude” because he’s tall and blocked her view. Have you been to Empire? There’s plenty of room next to the stage on the floor and she could have stood anywhere. She kept attacking us verbally and Jeff turned around and used his dad voice and told her “I don’t want to hear another word from you for the rest of the night.” *This leads me to concert etiquette tip #2 of the night—if you want to stand in front of me at a show, you need to get there before me, or you need to ask nicely. You cannot physically shove people at a concert. That’s assault.* After Jeff’s stern warning, she moved and didn’t come back. People around us that we didn’t even know approached us to talk about her odd and unacceptable behavior. It was incredibly strange. Maine is a small place, because not even three days later, I saw a picture of this woman show up on my Facebook news feed because we have a mutual friend and they were tagged in a photo together. I sent my friend a message and she assures me that this woman seems nice and normal and must have just been having a bad night and is not the wretched woman I interacted with.

It took a bunch of songs for me to shake that strange experience, but I finally got my head in the game and The Ballroom Thieves rocked our socks, as they always do. They are so solid live—with passionate, urgent vocals, relatable songwriting, strong musicianship, and steady engagement with the crowd. They’re the real deal and I sincerely hope you’ll check them out. I didn’t take notes during the show, but I remember that they played “Coward’s Son”—a favorite of mine, which Martin dedicated to his parents who were at the show. They played “Archers” (which dazzles) and “Lantern” with the awesome Maine Youth Rock Orchestra, Calin wowed on lead on “Bury Me Smiling,” and they wrapped their set with a very high energy “Wolf.” I remember they played a sweet new song to end the night that was fantastic, too. The Thieves are again and again keeping their spot high on my list of favorite live acts. I hope to most of you at their next show. (See show photos below!)

xo,

bree

The Ballroom Thieves' Martin Earley on guitar

The Ballroom Thieves’ Martin Earley on guitar

The Ballroom Thieves' percussionist, Devin Mauch

The Ballroom Thieves’ percussionist, Devin Mauch

The Thieves' cellist, Calin Peters

The Thieves’ cellist, Calin Peters

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Calin and Maine Youth Rock Orchestra Director Kevin Oats

Calin and Maine Youth Rock Orchestra Director Kevin Oats

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Calin and the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra

Calin and the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra

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Tall Heights joined the Thieves and the MYRO

Tall Heights joined the Thieves and the MYRO

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The Ballroom Thieves unveil A Wolf in the Doorway

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Boston’s The Ballroom Thieves live just a handful of times, but they quickly made their way onto my short list of favorite live bands. This talented trio—Martin Earley (guitar/vocals), Calin Peters (cello/vocals), and Devin Mauch (percussion/vocals)—is simply made to play music together. Their driving, percussive sound is infectious and their crystal clear vocals and gorgeous harmonies are top notch.

I first saw The Ballroom Thieves open for The Lone Bellow (holy smokes, I know!) back in June of 2013. I’d never heard of them and yet they stole my heart with the urgency of their music, honest lyrics, and engaging live show. They know how to perform and bring it every single time. The last time I saw the Thieves was with the very talented Maine Youth Rock Orchestra, and it was a real treat to see them perform together.

The Ballroom Thieves with Maine Youth Rock Orchestra

The Ballroom Thieves with Maine Youth Rock Orchestra

The Ballroom Thieves just released their first full-length album, A Wolf in the Doorway. They kindly sent it to me a couple of months ago and I’ve been listening on repeat. A Wolf in the Doorway beautifully captures the spirit of the Ballroom Thieves. It opens with “Archers,” which will win you over in seconds. (Check out the video for “Archers” that the Thieves made with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra). “Archers” captures what I think is the Thieves’ essential sound.

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My other favorite songs on the record are towards the end of the album. I love Calin’s airy lead vocal on “Bury Me Smiling.” “The Loneliness Waltz” is beautiful. I’ve listened to that one over and over and the lyric “We are frivolous with our hearts/Watch them bend till they break/Then we pick up the parts/We give/We take/We save and condemn/We live just to love again” slays me. Martin’s lead vocals on “Here I Stand” tell the next part of the story after “The Loneliness Waltz,” and their harmonies are hymn like. The whole album is stellar, and you should definitely give it a listen.

  
Not only have the Thieves released a great new album, but they’re coming to town on Friday! They’re definitely going to sell out Empire, so get your tickets early. They’re bringing the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra, and Boston-based folk duo Tall Heights is opening the show. If you’re into string sections and strong harmonies, this is a do not miss show! Come find me at the show and say hi—I’ll be the one smiling big and singing along in the front row.

xo,

bree

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Gregory Alan Isakov

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I stumbled upon Gregory Alan Isakov almost exactly six years ago when he opened for Brandi Carlile at South Portland High School. I caught him in Portland again in 2011, but have missed him since then, so was really excited to finally see him live again. My sweetie was able to meet me in Portland and we had a perfect Portland date night—drinks at The North Point, a delicious dinner at Empire, and a cup of coffee before the show where we met up with my steadfast concert friend Colin.

I have a pretty firm rule that I always get to a venue early and grab a spot up close and catch the opening act. Following that rule has been abundantly fruitful, as many of my current favorites are people I first saw as a show opener (Glen Hansard and Brandi Carlile are both good examples). Thursday night, getting to Port City Music Hall early for the opening act didn’t pan out for me because I thought they were terrible. People ask me all the time if I write bad reviews and I usually don’t have only bad things to say about a performance, but this was an exception. Jolie Holland and a guitarist “opened” the show—they bantered with each other awkwardly but mostly ignored the crowd, and she turned her back on the audience and away from the microphone after each song. I didn’t like their mumbled, slightly out of tune songs and their stage presence was ghastly. I was floored when Gregory invited her back out later in the show to do a song together and he spoke about how blown away he was by her when he first saw her live.

Jolie Holland

Jolie Holland

Gregory Alan Isakov (GAI) and his band took the stage close to 9PM and the crowd was ready for him (I’m definitely not the only one who struggled through the opener). I was very happy to see Jeb Bows on fiddle. I’ve seen him play with Brandi Carlile and her band a number of times, but didn’t know (and Colin told me) that Jeb’s home is with GAI. He has a ton of stage presence and really wails on his instrument and such fun to watch. My sweetie has a music background and intended to go into performance as a career, so I was delighted to see the huge smile spread across on his face right from the start when GAI opened with “Monsters” (check out this new song backed by the Seattle Symphony). The fullness of sound those five people (four on strings and a drummer) made together was gorgeous. Gregory’s voice is simple and clear and his folk songs are pretty and evoke times gone by. His songs are brought to their fullest with the addition of strings, harmonies, percussion, and an occasional banjo accompaniment.

From left to right are Jeb Bows, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Phil Parker

From left to right are Jeb Bows, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Phil Parker

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Steve Varney and Jeb Bows

Steve Varney and Jeb Bows

IMG_3271 IMG_3274 IMG_3276 I suspect Gregory Alan Isakov is a good guy. I was impressed by how little he put himself in the spotlight (literally, too, when you look at where he’s standing in my photos). He spoke about everyone in the band warmly throughout the night. We sang happy birthday to cellist Phil Parker. They played a lot of Gregory’s 2013 album, The Weatherman, but didn’t leave out 2009’s This Empty Northern Hemisphere and I was so happy to hear “This Empty Northern Hemisphere,” “That Moon Song,” and “Dandelion Wine” live.

Most of the band left the stage at one point and Gregory and Steve Varney played The Stable Song” off of their 2007 release, That Sea, That Gambler. It was beautiful. Soon after, Gregory crossed something off his “list of things to accomplish that people make at the new year” and instead of “growing a scary beard” or “standing up on a surfboard,” he had his “gospel moment” when everyone gathered around one microphone and accompanied him on “Honey, It’s Alright.” IMG_3280

A song in the dark

A song in the dark

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"The Stable Song"

“The Stable Song”

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"Honey, It's Alright"

“Honey, It’s Alright”

This was one of those special shows that I didn’t want to end. Gregory Alan Isakov and his band are an absolute pleasure to see live. Thanks for hosting a wonderful night, Port City Music Hall!

xo, bree

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Shakey Graves with David Ramirez

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I saw Shakey Graves at the State Theatre a year and a half ago opening for The Devil Makes Three and was impressed. I knew Alejandro Rose-Garcia from his brief role on Friday Night Lights, and it’s great to see the buzz that’s grown around him that led to a sold out show last year at Port City Music Hall and a very full house of swooning fans last night when he headlined the State Theatre.

As I often do, I got to the State when doors opened and snagged a second row center spot for the show. I was very excited to see Austin’s David Ramirez open the show—98.9 WCLZ plays his song “The Bad Days,” which I love. I thought David was great—just a man, his powerful voice, honest lyrics, and an acoustic guitar. Right up my alley. I am listening to him right now.

David Ramirez

David Ramirez

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Shakey Graves took the stage and I was glad to see that people were enthusiastically there to support him and were singing along. The last time I saw him at the State, people didn’t seem to know him at all, so he’s come a long way quickly. He has a raspy, clear voice, plays guitar confidently, and brings a lot of energy with the kick drum. Check out “Roll the Bones,” which was the first Shakey Graves song I ever heard to get a sense of him if you don’t already know him. He was joined by a drummer and a guitarist for parts of the night, but Shakey can do it all on his own. He’s very comfortable in front of a crowd, too, and was at ease on stage and chatted with us warmly throughout the night. People were psyched to sing along with his best-known song, “Dearly Departed,” too. It was a fun show and I’ll definitely see him whenever he’s in town. Thanks to the State Theatre for hosting! Check out more pictures from the show below.

xo,

bree

Shakey Graves was all smiles last night at the State Theatre

Shakey Graves was all smiles last night at the State Theatre

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Ellis Paul with Shun Ng

Friday, April 10, 2015

Boothbay Opera House, Boothbay Harbor, Maine

My dear friend Dot asked if I wanted to join her for her very first Ellis Paul show. Of course I wanted to! I love going with Ellis Paul first-timers to see their reaction to his fantastic storytelling and engaging live show. Dot and I met after school and carpooled to Boothbay Harbor, where we boldly invited ourselves to share a big table with a man and his son at the very crowded The Thistle Inn (who, of course, we found out we had people in common with) and made it over to the Boothbay Opera House when doors opened. I hadn’t been to the Boothbay Opera House in years and it looks fantastic!

Guitar prodigy Shun Ng took the stage and wowed with very impressive, complex guitar pieces and reinterpreted songs, including “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Ellis is a mentor to this talented 25 year old, and helped him write the lyrics for the first of the songs he played that night. When Ellis’ guitar string broke later in the evening, Shun brought Ellis his own guitar to use. I liked seeing their friendship and admiration for each other, and am happy to see Ellis’ continued support of young musicians.

Shun Ng

Shun Ng

Ellis took the stage and welcomed us warmly. He lived for a couple of years in the midcoast and many of his friends and neighbors from those years were at the show. This was my 44th Ellis Paul show, and I think he sounded the best he has in ages (even though he told us later in the show that he had a bit of a cold). The majority of songs he played over the course of the evening were from his most recent fan-funded album, Chasing Beauty, and his 2010 release, The Day After Everything Changed. Ellis showed us the vinyl version of Chasing Beauty and a copy of his first children’s book The Hero In You. He reminisced with the crowd throughout the night about shows he’s played in the area, including a show years ago at Bowdoin College (I couldn’t help myself and shouted out that the Bowdoin show was my first time seeing him and he joked that “you never forget your first time!”). Laurie MacAllister, who plays bass for Red Molly, joined Ellis for two songs. They honored the late Pete Seeger by playing his “If I Had A Hammer” and closed the night together with a beautiful version of “Let It Be.” I see Ellis live so often that I am very familiar with the content of his live show, but I got a special treat because he played a song I’d never heard before–“I Ain’t No Jesus”—which I loved.

Ellis Paul smiling for his former hometown crowd

Ellis Paul smiling for his former hometown crowd

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I was glad that Ellis played some of my favorites for Dot to experience live—including “Maria’s Beautiful Mess” and “Hurricane Angel.” We got to sing along on “Kick Out the Lights” about Johnny Cash kicking out the lights at the Grand Ole Opry. Ellis hopped off stage and played “Annalee” and “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down” unplugged from the floor. He asked us to sing along and at some point I realized mine was the only voice besides his I could hear. It was as close to singing a duet with Ellis that I’ve come. Maybe we should do a song together at my 50th Ellis show? It won’t be long. Thanks for a great night!

xo,

bree

Red Molly's Laurie MacAllister

Red Molly’s Laurie MacAllister

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Ellis unplugged

Ellis unplugged

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"Let It Be"

“Let It Be”

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Damien Rice with My bubba

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Orpheum Theatre, Boston

I’m tempted to write just this:

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG

OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG

I SAW DAMIEN RICE FROM THE FIFTH ROW LAST NIGHT AND IT WAS BEAUTIFUL!

But you know me, and I’m long winded. I’ll try to keep it brief though, but only to spare you the sadness you might feel since you weren’t there, or that I feel because it’s over now.

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I'd never been to the Orpheum before. If you don't look too closely, it's quite pretty.

I’d never been to the Orpheum before. If you don’t look too closely, it’s quite pretty.

My awesome concert friend Bob (who is always looking out for me concert-wise) and I got tickets over the weekend for last night’s sold out Damien Rice show at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston. When he and I met almost four years ago, he asked me what my best concert experience to date was, and I told him without hesitating what I’ve told anyone who has ever asked me that question—it was Damien Rice with The Frames (featuring the insanely gifted Glen Hansard) at State Theatre in Portland back in April of 2004. Damien was touring to support his beautiful 2002 album O, and I was in the front row for the show with no barricade leaning right up against the stage. Lisa Hannigan joined him that night along with a cellist and an additional instrumentalist or two. It was inspired. I was speechless after the show.

I haven’t seen Damien Rice live in eleven years, but last night’s live show more than met my lofty expectations and fully reminded me of the magic of that night all those many years ago. Damien is an unassuming character on stage. He chatted with us genuinely (none of that “HEY BOSTON!!” crap) about some of the songs and life in general. His voice is crystal clear and powerful. He holds notes forever and can evoke emotion without even singing a single word. I think he oohed and aahed for the last many minutes of the last song of the night, “Cold Water,” but the cries meant something anyhow. The hair on the back of my neck was at a standstill for the bulk of the night. If anything, I’d occasionally get distracted by how uncomfortable I was in the ancient seat (albeit a fifth row one, so not a complaint) at the dilapidated Orpheum and would shift and get back to focusing on the show.

My bubba. Courtesy of Chris Van Slyke of bostonthroughmyeyes.com

My bubba. Courtesy of Chris Van Slyke of bostonthroughmyeyes.com

This gives a good sense of how far from the stage our seats were. So close!

This gives a good sense of how far from the stage our seats were. So close!

Damien Rice. Courtesy of Chris Van Slyke of bostonthroughmyeyes.com

Damien Rice. Courtesy of Chris Van Slyke of bostonthroughmyeyes.com

Damien Rice. Courtesy of Chris Van Slyke of bostonthroughmyeyes.com

Damien Rice. Courtesy of Chris Van Slyke of bostonthroughmyeyes.com

Courtesy of Chris Van Slyke of bostonthroughmyeyes.com

Courtesy of Chris Van Slyke of bostonthroughmyeyes.com

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I’m enjoying Damien’s newest album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, and it seemed that last night’s crowd was full of fans who alsoknew his entire catalogue by heart. I just considered telling you about the standout songs, but the list would basically be a set list of the whole show. I was so impressed with how much passion and just sheer noise one man could produce up there. What a night. My friend Chris at bostonthroughmyeyes.com wrote a bit about the show which includes the set list and lovely photos he took, as well. I knew I’d likely send you his way for a full report and so pretty much turned off the music journalist in my head and just got caught up being a lucky member of last night’s incredibly fortunate audience.

Damien Rice—you have got “it” and “it” to spare. Thank you for the gift of your music and for a truly beautiful show last night. This is essentially my version of speechless.

xo,

bree

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