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Lake Street Dive with Ages and Ages

Saturday, April 5, 2014

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

Here’s something I never thought would be true—I missed half of Lake Street Dive’s set because I had to get home to meet our babysitter. Really. Lake Street Dive’s kind publicist offered me a plus one ticket to the show, and my sweetie and I asked my awesome student Lauren to babysit his two kiddos—the first time we’ve gone out together on a Saturday night since we started dating. Lauren met up with us earlier in the day so we could introduce her to the boys, and from that moment on, Jeff’s oldest asked “when is Lauren coming” every twenty minutes for the rest of the day! Adorable! I nearly forgot that Lauren couldn’t drive past midnight (driving laws these days are so different than when I was in high school), so we had to leave at 11 to get home to her in time.

Here is a public declaration of thanks to the fabulous Tom Rota, outgoing Programming Director of my favorite intimate listening room anywhere—Portland’s One Longfellow Square. It was Tom who introduced me to Lake Street Dive back in 2011. I saw them at OLS in 2011 and 2012 play to pretty full houses—almost 200 seats in the house. Here’s my post from their October 2012 show. To see them play to a sold out crowd of nearly ten times that amount of people at State Theatre just over a year later was incredible. Lake Street Dive is getting the attention they truly deserve. It’s funny to see them called a “new” band since they’ve been together since 2009, but I’m happy people are catching on and am lucky to have gotten to know them early on.

Love Rachael's face in this one! Try getting a picture of Bridget who is constantly in motion! There's Mike Olson, too.

From my post in 2012–I love Rachael’s face in this one! Try getting a picture of Bridget who is constantly in motion! There’s Mike Olson, too.

I love this shot! I had to get up and walk to the back of the room to fit all of LSD into one frame.

I love this shot from 2012 at One Longfellow Square! I had to get up and walk to the back of the room to fit all of LSD into one frame.

Portland, Oregon’s Ages and Ages opened the show and reminded me of The Partridge Family. All six band members sang and played percussion at some point during their set. Their upbeat harmonic pop sound was full and energizing. When the tambourine came out, Up with People came to mind. Their hopeful songs like “I See More” promised “It’s all OK, I’ll be on your side.” Mike Calabrese from Lake Street Dive joined Ages and Ages on drums for their last song, “Divisionary,” and we were happily surprised when the rest of Lake Street Dive came out to join him, too.

Ages and Ages

Ages and Ages

Ages and Ages joined by Lake Street Dive

Ages and Ages joined by Lake Street Dive

There was an excruciatingly long break between bands, and I started to realize that we’d have to leave the show early because of that. Boo. Luckily, Steve Feeney wrote this show review for the Portland Press Herald so I could read about what I missed—including a sing along cover of “Rich Girl” to end the evening. The State was packed and people were jockeying for a place to stand around us near the front—a far cry from the last times I’ve seen LSD play in teeny listening rooms to seated small audiences. The show was originally supposed to be at Port City Music Hall, but after shout outs in Rolling Stone and The New Yorker, multiple late night show appearances, and the successful release of their acclaimed newest album Bad Self Portraits, the move to State Theatre was made and the show sold out. Awesome.

Lake Street Dive’s lead singer, the incomparable Rachael Price, was a showstopper, but absolutely humble and genuinely grateful for the warm reception they received. She welcomed us to “the biggest show we’ve ever done,” and she seemed stunned by our presence as we surely were by hers. She was buoyed by the enthusiastic crowd and told us that they were at the end of a long tour and we were lifting them up. I love it when a band shows appreciation for the audience. A little friendly banter goes a very long way in my book and can make or break a concert experience.

LSD Instagram Rachael Rach

Rachael Price, Mike Calabrese, Bridget Kearney, and Mike Olson met almost a decade ago as classmates at Boston’s New England Conservatory and have been together ever since. One of the many things I love about this insanely talented jazzy pop group is that each is a star in their own right. Rachael is the most obvious talent because she leads with breathtaking vocals, but everyone is an integral part of this perfect puzzle. Bridget’s bass is full and mesmerizing. Mike Olson’s trumpet parts feel like they have their own voice. Mike Calabrese knows how to showcase everyone and when to pick it up or slow it down on drums for the greatest impact. They are a true team.

Bridget had a sick solo on “Henrietta” and Rachael told us Bridget wrote “Love Doctor” as well. Bridget seems to be the head writer for the group these days. Their producer, Sam Kassirer, joined them onstage for a few songs on the keys. He owns and operates The Great North Sound Society in isolated Parsonfield, Maine—so there’s a Maine connection to Lake Street Dive’snew album, which was recorded there.

I am so happy you were all there to see Lake Street Dive live. What a treat. Lake Street Dive posted a picture and a thank you to the sold out crowd on Facebook and I’ve rarely seen so many likes and comments on a post in such short time.

Lake Street Dive showing Portland, Maine some love on Facebook!

Lake Street Dive showing Portland, Maine some love on Facebook!

Whatever it was that introduced you to Lake Street Dive—Kevin Bacon’s tweet with a link of their cover of “I Want You Back” (which has almost two million views now), their appearances on The Colbert Report, The Ellen Degeneres Show, and The Late Show with David Letterman, or even just that Portland’s 98.9 WCLZ made their song the free download of the week a month or so ago, welcome to the fan club!

To quote David Letterman after their performance on his show—“Are you kidding me? Come back every night. Can you do that?” Perfectly said, Dave. I’m sure I speak for everyone at the show when I say that I hope you’ll come back soon to see us again! Thanks, Lake Street Dive!

xo,

bree

A packed State Theatre crowd. So sad to have to leave early!

A packed State Theatre crowd. So sad to have to leave early!

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The Ballroom Thieves with the Soil & the Sun and Starlight Cicada

Friday, April 4, 2014

Empire, Portland, Maine

The Ballroom Thieves is one of my favorite bands from New England. Their percussive, harmonic sound and heartfelt, relatable lyrics are infectious. I’m a fan and plan to see them whenever they come to Maine. Fridays are usually the day of the week that I’m most tired and ready for bed before dark, but I gladly persevered until midnight to see the Thieves again. Check out my previous Ballroom Thieves posts from June 2013, October 2013, and January 2014.

I hadn’t seen a show at Empire since it’s reopening, and I liked the updates to the concert space upstairs. An aside: I’m often confused by folks who come out to see live music at bars. It seems like a lot of people just talk (loudly and even louder as the night goes on) throughout the show. Why bother buying a ticket to a show? Maybe just go to a bar without a band playing? It’s distracting (okay, annoying) for those of us who came to listen, but I digress.

I showed up late after a long dinner with girlfriends and was glad to catch the bulk of Starlight Cicada’s set. Maine’s own Elizabeth Taillon (Starlight Cicada is her unique moniker) is a former busker. I was impressed with the power of her vocals and with how revelatory and heavy her lyrics were. Her simple, finger picked electric guitar was a perfect accompaniment for her big voice and slow, mellow songs. I was drawn to a song that had the refrain “love me or be alone.” I ended up leaning over to the guy standing next to me to ask if he knew anything about Starlight Cicada—and, lucky me, he was her boyfriend. I’d like to see her again in a listening room and hear a little biographical information and background about the songs. Check out Starlight Cicada’s EP “The Mansion Demos.

Starlight Cicada

Starlight Cicada

The Ballroom Thieves discovered the Soil & the Sun when recording their Audiotree SXSW Showcase in Austin and invited them to come to New England and play some shows together. Grand Rapids, Michigan’s the Soil & the Sun was fantastic. I was glad that Caroline finished work downstairs and could come up to join me so I’d have someone to chat with about how interesting their music was. Their sound is full—six gifted musicians play multiple, rotating instruments including two keyboards, violin, drums, bass, guitar, tambourine, oboe (that wasn’t a clarinet, right?), and assorted percussive items. Since genres are so blurred these days, I’d dub theirs “indie orchestral.” I was reminded of North Carolina’s Lost in the Trees a bit during their set. I was impressed with their layered songs with ever-changing tempos, gorgeous harmonies, and instrumentation. I would have loved to hear a bit about the band and their songs, and I wish they’d been able to play a bit longer so my sweetie (who was a music major in college and a quite serious, accomplished flute player for many years) could have heard them. They’re impressive and I hope they’ll come back this way.

the Soil & the Sun

the Soil & the Sun

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The Ballroom Thieves took the stage and opened with “Brother.” It stuck out as one of their best to me and was a strong opening. Devin, Martin, and Calin were spot on, as always. Jeff made it in time to catch their set from the beginning and he and Caroline, seeing them for the first time, were both impressed. The Thieves complimented the new Empire and raved about their fantastic meal as they recounted their entrees by name.

Martin Earley, Devin Mauch, and Calin Peters are The Ballroom Thieves

Martin Earley, Devin Mauch, and Calin Peters are The Ballroom Thieves

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“Oak” is pretty. I’m looking forward to having that song to listen to on repeat when The Ballroom Thieves’ upcoming album drops. I liked hearing new songs, too, and the Thieves played a few. One of the lyrics that caught me was “I would burn into the ground to take you home.” Their harmonies are always strong, but were even more mesmerizing when they sang a cappella on “Stones.” I appreciated it at the end of the night when the guys thanked us sincerely for coming out and for our continued support of their music. They can be a little goofy onstage (and I like their comfortable banter with the crowd), but it’s clear that they genuinely appreciate the opportunity to play for an attentive audience.

I love this shot of Devin

I love this shot of Devin

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They unplugged and came out into the middle of the room to play “Save Me,” definitely one of my favorites, to wrap the night. Folks circled around them and the room was completely silent but for the beautiful lyrics and harmonies of that song. I was impressed (but not surprised) that the Thieves garnered total silence from a bar crowd at midnight on a Friday night. They’re that good. Check them out next time they’re in town—you can meet me front and center!

"Save Me" unplugged in the middle of the room

“Save Me” unplugged in the middle of the room

Thanks, Thieves!

xo,

bree

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Ellis Paul

Monday, March 10, 2014

Slates, Hallowell, Maine

I hadn’t seen Ellis Paul in almost a year, so I was excited that my sweetie could take the night off and join me for his first Ellis Paul show (my 41st). When I tell people how many times I’ve seen Ellis live they tend to startle, but those are people who haven’t seen him live yet—or they’d know it’s actually a perfectly reasonable number.

Jeff and I got to Slates in Hallowell (just five miles from my house) in time for coffee and dessert and to settle into our front row seats. Ellis said hello to folks (a lot of familiar faces in the crowd for him, I’m sure) as he took the stage. He opened with “Chasing Beauty,” a song about a road trip he took in his sister’s Ford Pinto when he was 20. He joked about tattoos before playing “Rose Tattoo” and told us that his Woody Guthrie tattoo doesn’t look much like Woody since he got it decades ago. He suggested that tattoo artists show patrons age progression images of our tattoos before letting us actually commit to getting them.

Ellis Paul

Ellis Paul

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Ellis was chatty that night, and he talked at length about the surge in digital music and how sad it is we’ve lost music we can hold in our hands. He reminisced about how important it used to be to read the liner notes when we bought a new record, tape, or CD. He got home from a show in Texas where he rented a car with no CD player (those are almost gone, he lamented) and went straight home and bought his daughters a record player. He brought it to the show and played a Neil Young album on it. It was nice to hear the grit. Ellis’ newest fan-funded album, Chasing Beauty, will obviously come in LP as well. He’ll be doing a Concert Window show on Wednesday, May 28th at 8pm EST to celebrate the album release and will be playing songs live over the Internet from his home.

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He told the hilarious story of his beautiful guitar Guinness and how Neil Young is a guitar dream crusher. It was exciting that Ellis played a new song for us—one he’d only played live the whole way through on guitar with vocals the day before. Did I write this lyric down right from that song? “Love—you’ve done me in.” I liked it. Even Ellis’ new songs seem tried and true. Jeff mentioned that to me after the show (which he really liked). He said Ellis’ songs felt “complete,” and added, “you know how a song sounds familiar even though you know you’ve never heard it before—that’s how I felt about Ellis’ songs.”

I really enjoyed hearing Ellis discuss his song about the Empire State Building. He talked about Arlo Guthrie’s hit “City of New Orleans” (written by Steve Goodman) in which the chorus is written from the perspective of the train. His song, “Empire State,” is written from the perspective of the building. The Empire State Building was built during the Great Depression. It had never occurred to me, but Ellis reminded us, that the poorest immigrants in our country built that extraordinary structure in less than two years for some of the richest people in our country. “Empire State” is the epitome of a folk song—loaded with social commentary and rich history.

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Ellis asked if we had any audience requests and played “Roll Away Bed” for us. He admitted that he was really the one in the relationship with the sleeping issues but says it was his girlfriend in the song. He joked that he ended up in a blanket burrito in the morning while she awoke without covers. The analytics from his website tell him that the number two thing people search that bring them to ellispaul.com is “roll away bed,” which is probably people really looking for portable beds, but he’ll take it.

Ellis gets a lot of letters from soldiers and has written songs about war and its aftermath. His newest is “Plastic Soldiers”—a protest song written with jazz chords. It was a real stand out that night. It’s startling and powerful without being preachy. The chorus goes “Come home soldier/Dinner’s getting colder/It’s time to put your toys away/Marching orders/Backyard borders/You will live to fight another day/Oh, put your plastic soldiers away.”

Ellis told us he was honored to be asked to be the commencement speaker in his homeland at University of Maine Presque Isle where he’ll receive an honorary doctorate next month. He’s also been asked to write their alma mater song. He reminisced about being young in 1982 and a state champion runner to boot. He said he got a hero’s welcome (with fire trucks and all) when he arrived home from competing and was given the key to the city when he was just 17 years old. Aroostook County has been good to him, he said.

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Someone asked him to play “The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down,” which is featured in Me, Myself, and Irene starring Jim Carey. Apparently there’s a zombie version of it someone put up on YouTube and another version (among many) with a guy in a cowboy hat dancing all over London. It’s Ellis’ most commercially successful song with over 1.5 million hits on YouTube, but it’s earned him less than $4 in royalties. Apparently, he was recently asked to testify in Washington DC about music rights for singer-songwriters.

Ellis wrapped the show with “Kick Out the Lights”—a song about Johnny Cash kicking out the stage lights at the Grand Ole Opry. It’s a fun song with boisterous sing along parts for the men and women in the audience. It brought us all together to finish a great night. We asked for an encore and Ellis kindly obliged with “Snow in Austin”—a song about a long-distance relationship between two people living in Austin and Boston.

This Extended Play Session featuring Ellis on Alternate Route TV shows him discussing and playing a lot of newer songs. If you can’t make it out tomorrow night to see Ellis at the Camden Opera House, this might have to do until he’s back in town!

Thanks, Ellis! Looking forward to Chasing Beauty and show #42!

xo,

bree

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The Avett Brothers with Old Crow Medicine Show

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland, Maine

Ken is seeing more music in 2014 than I am! And he has two small children, so I have no idea what my excuse is. I think I’ve been hibernating this winter, and even the 45 minute drive to Portland has seemed like a genuine trek given the darkness of the season. Today is the first day of spring, though, so I expect all that to change soon. Here’s another beautifully written post by my dear friend and comrade-in-music, Ken Templeton. Thanks, Ken! I feel like I was right there with you!

xo,

bree

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It’s pretty hard to overestimate how much The Avett Brothers’ music means to me. I remember sitting at Chumley’s with a friend many years ago, telling him that I’d been casting about for new music. “The Avett Brothers,” he said. “They’re bluegrass-with-muscle.” I’ll confess that I didn’t go to the music store: I went to Napster. I stole a few songs like At The Beach and Old Wyom. Within a few days, I was at Bull Moose, cleaning them out of the few Avett Brothers discs they had in stock. But it was seeing them live that made me really love this band. Their passion, vulnerability, and joy for music have made Avett Brothers concerts some of the best experiences I’ve had as a music fan.

It was great to see them again (for the fifth time) last Monday at the Civic Center. I first saw them years ago at the Trocadero (a place I used to see The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Toasters and The Bouncing Souls play when I was in high school). The Troc is a great little club, a little smaller than the State and there really isn’t a way to replicate that intimate experience in an arena. But the Avetts’ energy is infectious and capacious, and more than fills a room – even a big one.

Image by Crackerfarm. (Pictured:  Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett).

Image by Crackerfarm. (Pictured: Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett).

They started out with Shame and Die, Die, Die, both off of Emotionalism. Shame is so much fun – great song to get a crowd of people belting out: “Shame / Boatloads of shame / Day after day / More of the same.” They followed these up with Talk on Indolence, a ripping stomp of a song that is usually featured in the beginning of their sets to draw everybody in. It’s from Four Thieves Gone and I think represents some of the different musical influences on this band: the banjo is strong and driving, there’s some punkish screaming, the song begins as a rap (sort of), and the tempo goes from all-out frenzy to drunken slowness and back again. While it’s hard to say that there is one song in the Avetts’ catalogue that captures them, this one might be it.

Ketch Secor joined the band for Thank God I’m a Country Boy. Ketch is probably the only guy in music who can make Scott Avett seem somewhat subdued. It was fun to see them play together. He can rip on the fiddle and his back-and-forth with Seth on the guitar was a blast.

Live and Die and Laundry Room came next. I was really hoping for Laundry Room. (They kicked off that show at the Troc years ago with it, and I clearly remember being transfixed.) That tune just has so many great lines – for me, it’s all about this verse: “Last night, I dreamt the whole night long. / I woke with a head full of songs. / I spent the whole day; I wrote ‘em down, but it’s a shame. / Tonight I’ll burn the lyrics, cause every chorus was your name.”

At this point, I was pretty sure they’d play something off their new album, Magpie and the Dandelion. Nope. They jumped into a breakneck version of Old Joe Clark with a slow, slow, slow interlude of The Roving Gambler, back to an even faster OJC. OK, now something from Magpie. Nope. Distraction #74, from Four Thieves and then At The Beach. I love At The Beach. Not only was it an introduction to me for this band, but it evokes, for me, rolling down your car windows and cranking the volume on this tune and giving the accelerator a little more shoe. “I know that you’re smilin baby, / I don’t even need to see your face. / Sunset at the shoreline / We are laughin, breaking up, just like the waves. / Are you feelin, feelin, feelin what I’m feelin – like I’m floating, floating / Up above that big blue ocean. Sand beneath our feet / Big blue sky above our heads, no need to keep / The stressin from our everyday life on our minds / We just had to leave all that behind.”

At this point, my dogs are barkin. There hasn’t been reason at all to sit down and take a load off. The whole show has been stunning. And then they kick into Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise, which has to be one of the great descriptions of willing yourself to believe, despite what all the evidence might point to: “There was dream / And one day I could see it. / Like a bird in a cage, I broke in / And demanded that somebody free it. / There was a kid / With a head full of doubt / So I screamed til I died / And the last of those bad thoughts was finally out.” This song, and others like it off I and Love and You (like The Perfect Space) used to feature a lot of instrument-switching for the band – Seth would jump on the drums while Scott went to the piano. Now they have a full band, with Joe Kwon on cello, Mike Marsh on drums, and Justin (?) on organ, and the sound on songs like Head Full of Doubt rises to meet the grandeur implied by the lyrics.

11 songs in, they played Another is Waiting, the single from Magpie and then Skin and Bones, which is one of the great little gems on the new album. I was shocked that it was over an hour into the set before they played any new songs. But one of the great things you can see if you look at the Avetts’ set lists is that they really are different each night. Of the 26 songs they played in Pittsburgh, two nights prior to Portland, 11 were played again in Portland. (Looking at that list, it seems like they did include a few songs that feature just Scott and Seth, which didn’t happen at the Civic Center – that aspect of their show is usually so wonderful and I definitely missed it. There was an extended stage into the audience, and I thought that there would be a lovely little three or four song mini-set of the two of them on songs like When I Drink, Ten Thousand Words, Murder in the City, and Tear Down The House.)

Salina is one of my favorite Avett Brothers tunes – the one I used to introduce the band to my friend Max Garcia Conover (see here and here for Bree’s reviews of Max’s recent shows) – and it was fantastic. “Cleaveland, I ain’t never felt nothin’ so strong. / Been believin’ the words to my songs, / Ohio, I’m leaving. Ohio, I’m gone.” This video of Salina is awesome – it’s over in Glasgow, Scotland and when Seth sings the bridge, a lovely Scottish lass yells “sexy bastard” at him, making Scott kind of laugh, trying to sing, “Poughkeepsie, hang up the telephone.” And, while we have a minute, how many bands can throw Poughkeepsie into a song?

I and Love and You was, as it always is, rousing and beautiful and spiritual and gorgeous. Seth on the piano and Scott leading the crowd through chorus after chorus: “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in. / Are you aware the shape I’m in? / My hands they shake, my head it spins / Oh, Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in.” In the past, I have seen them end shows with this song, so it was interesting to see it here, and I think that it probably doesn’t work as well in the middle of a set – it seems like it either has to come at the very beginning or very end. It would be a great opening song, I think. To some degree, I felt like there was a four-song lull after “I and Love and You,” and I think at least part of that is this is a hard song to follow up.

They followed with Pretty Girl from Chile, a song I like, but is harder to engage with in concert, I think, because it leaps through the gamut of the band’s musical influences and expressions: it starts like a fairly standard country-ish tune: “I’m no more than a friend girl / I can see that you need more. / My boots are on my feet now / My bag is by the door.” But then it goes all flamenco (Seth’s guitar on this was spectacular), then heavy, driving, power-chord electric guitar, then hilarious answering machine message. Each part of the song was good, but it seemed like crowd had a hard time following the progressions. The next three songs are ones that I just don’t dig as much: The Fall, then Vanity, and Never Been Alive. All fine songs, but The Fall has always been a bit uninteresting to me, lyrically speaking, Vanity is my least favorite song on Magpie and Never Been Alive is a song from Magpie that just felt too slow for this part of the show. I sat down and took a rest at this point.

Paranoia in B-Flat Major and Go to Sleep ended the show – two really fun songs to sing along to and stomp around. Both songs are from Emotionalism and are kind of quintessential Avett songs, with a good amount of dissonance between the upbeat music and lyrics that explore some very challenging emotions. In Paranoia, Scott sings, “There was a time I could move, a time I could breathe / With crowded spaces filled with angry faces, it didn’t once cross my mind / With paranoia on my heels, will you love me still / When we awake and you find the sanity is gone from my eyes?” The crowd sang with Seth on Go To Sleep as he led a call-and-response of “La la, la la la la.” There was plenty of laughter, on stage and in the crowd, as he climbed out of our range into his own high notes that were barely squeaks.

The encore was stupendous. Old Crow Medicine Show joined and they tore through Fireball Mail before leading the audience in a really fun version of Will The Circle Be Unbroken, with Scott, Ketch, and Seth taking turns singing verses.

Then, Seth, who normally hits all the high notes, comes out with: “Doh, doh, doh, doh,” in the low register and we all start singing “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight.” It was sweet and fun, and if you were there and weren’t singing, then you’re a cynic. I guess there are worse things to be, but not at an Avett Brothers show!

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The Wood Brothers with Chris Kasper

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I knew I wasn’t going to able to make it down to Portland for this show since I’d agreed to babysit my sweetie’s little ones while he was at work all day. After reading Ken Templeton’s show recap (he’s making writing these beautiful recaps a habit, so maybe I should start calling him an official whatbreesees.com correspondent?!), I’m so sad I missed the show. I also want to second Ken’s concert etiquette tips! Thanks, Ken!

xo,

bree

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“I don’t have a record label. I don’t have a booking agent. But the Wood Brothers invited me on this tour, because that’s the kind of people they are,” said Chris Kasper, the opening act for The Wood Brothers on a bone-chilling Sunday night at Port City Music Hall. I thought about what he meant and think it is very closely related to the person described in the Wood Brothers’ tune Postcards from Hell, about a talented musician struggling to make it. The chorus goes: “When you ask him how he sings his blues so well, / He says I got a soul that I won’t sell, / I got a soul that I won’t sell, / I got a soul that I won’t sell, / And I don’t read postcards from hell.” I don’t mean that the connection here is that Kasper said he doesn’t have a label and neither does the guy in the song–it’s that the Wood Brothers seem most interested in music and musicians that play for what Oliver Wood called, pointing to his heart, “the right reasons.” Call it passion, call it love – Oliver even called it selfishness, because musicians often leave their families for weeks or months at a time on tour – it is all corrupted by a pursuit of fame. The Wood Brothers also know that luck is involved and that there is talent the world-over that goes unrewarded in any material sort of way, and that the only way to keep going is to put your music or art or passion into the world for its own sake.

And that’s what they did last Sunday. The night began with three songs from their latest album: The Muse (the album’s title track), Keep Me Around, and Sing About It. The album is fantastic and these three songs anchor it. Each of them features three-part harmonies that filled the room. Oliver begins in Sing About It: “If you get too worried… / What you ought to do is sing,” and Chris and Jano join in on the chorus: “Sing about joy / Sing about love / And hopin’ it lasts / Sing about your troubles / And they just might pass.” There is a sincere belief in the power of music that runs through their songs – not just in overt references like this, but also in the sincerity of the lyrics throughout their catalogue. The Wood Brothers have been described as gritty, and I wonder if we use that word these days to talk about music that is honest and describes sometimes difficult subjects – in addition to using real instruments and featuring vocals that aren’t perfect, but are true.

After beginning with three new songs, the band played some older stuff: Pay Attention, from Smoke Ring Halo, and then a full-tilt version of Atlas from their debut album Ways Not to Lose. Check out Chris Wood’s playing on Atlas – there just aren’t that many bass players who can do what he’s doing on that song. It’s impressive on YouTube; it is jaw-dropping in person.

Oliver switched to electric guitar for a few songs: Twisted, Postcards from Hell, and the funky, really fun Who The Devil before bringing out “Big Mike,” a 360-degree microphone so the band could play “old time.” Oliver said, “Now the thing is about the olden times is that people didn’t have facebook and cell phones.” In other words, people actually came to concerts to listen to music, as opposed to coming to concerts to document their own lives.

This is an aside, but I have a few small rules for myself about concerts:

  • I don’t shout requests. I don’t care if other people do–I think it’s an honest expression of appreciation for the music–but I am always excited to see what a band or artist has chosen, or chooses in the moment.

  • I (now) allow myself one picture with my phone, but no videos. I found myself taking a video at a concert and essentially watching the song through my phone instead of really being present for the performance itself. There are enough videos on YouTube of these songs, but not enough chances to experience great music in person.

  • I (now) tell people to shut up when they’re talking during the show. Right at the beginning of this concert, Chris Wood was playing this beautiful introduction on his bass with a bow and someone says, “That ain’t no cello, that’s Chris Wood on the bass.” I was one of two or three people who immediately said shut up. Thankfully, the person did.

OK, sorry. So, they gathered around Big Mike and began with Firewater, one of the songs from The Muse I didn’t think I would hear, but am so glad I did. I actually listened to it on the way to the show in the car, and it is just gorgeous: “You think I’d’ve learned / All the times I was burned / Deserving the blues, / And I sure got ‘em. / The drinkin’ and pills / The head-shrinkin’ bills, / They got high.” They invited Chris Kasper and Kiley Ryan to join them for a haunting rendition of In The Pines, an old Leadbelly tune famously covered by Nirvana. Oliver encouraged Kiley to take a couple of sweet solos and his voice meshed perfectly with Kasper, Chris and Jano. (Of course, we also had to tell someone to shut up.)

The Wood Brothers. Courtesy of Ken Templeton.

The Wood Brothers. Courtesy of Ken Templeton.

The version of Luckiest Man was really cool. Normally, the song starts with Oliver strumming, then Chris and Jano joining for rhythm, but this version featured only the bass and some spare drumming for the verses, then the full band for the chorus, which the crowd belted: “Running is useless / Fighting is foolish / You’re not gonna win, / But still, you’re the luckiest man. / You’re up against / Too many horses / And mysterious forces / What you don’t know is / You are the luckiest man / You’re the luckiest man.”

What is amazing about this band is its range. They are able to have the whole place rocking back and forth with heavy, thick guitar licks, like those in Honey Jar and then quiet the whole place down on a song like Blue and Green. These songs were actually back-to-back, because Oliver broke a string on Honey Jar (only time on the tour, he said). He kept playing during Honey Jar, and the broken string seemed to encourage him to extend his solos. They took a second to regroup and talk about what to play next. Those first notes of Blue and Green were like a gift – so many people around me heard them and just said, “yes.” It’s an amazing song that captures how people we love are always here, even after they’ve left the planet.

The set ended with one of my favorite tunes, When I Was Young and the classic blues tune Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor. When I Was Young features some of my favorite Wood Brothers lyrics: “When I was young I never looked at the clouds and hoped for the rain. / When I was young I never thought this life should ever bring me sorrow. / When I was young I thought, someday everybody’s gonna know my name / When I was young my hardest work was waiting for tomorrow / … Now I’m grown and things are not exactly what they seem / The older I get, the less I know and the more I dream.”

For an encore, Chris Wood introduced their first song as by one of the great American composers, and they play it, even though it’s not in their typical genre. “People call us Americana,” he said, “whatever that means.” What it means, I think, is that your fans are as likely to dance to the melody as they are to dance to the beat. I’ll just link the song here, because it’s pretty fun and a nice surprise.

Their final song, One More Day, was just too damn good. It was full-energy, all-out. During the song, Chris put down his bass and just started dancing – so much fun (you can see his moves in the video linked above). I saw a friend after the show. “I hadn’t heard a lot of their stuff before this,” he said. “I gotta go get some albums.” It was an amazing show – another friend said it was in his top ten concerts of all time and that’s true for me too. It’s clear to me now why a buddy of mine once told me The Wood Brothers are the only band he would but a plane ticket to go see – and why, the next day, I was looking at their tour schedule, thinking, “You know Europe’s not that far…”

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The Lone Bellow

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Music Hall, Portsmouth, NH

I have absolutely no objectivity when it comes to The Lone Bellow. They are by far my favorite band right now. I love their desperate, powerful delivery of gospel-infused country/folk songs. They are truly something special. I was so excited when my sweetie was able to take a night off of work to join me for a school night road trip down to lovely Portsmouth, New Hampshire to see them again. I decided to take the night “off” for date night, and so I didn’t get a press pass, didn’t take notes, and only took a few low quality photos with my iPhone at the show. (There are, however, two thorough posts about The Lone Bellow on my blog—one from last June and another from November. Check those out if you want to know more about the band and/or see quality photos).

Blue sky over Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Blue sky over Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Jeff and I grabbed some coffee, walked around downtown, and had a delicious dinner at The Friendly Toast before heading over to the stunning Music Hall for the show. The Lone Bellow played as part of The Music Hall’s Intimately Yours series, so there was no opening act and we got to have a whole night with just the band. It felt like we were in their living room.

The Friendly Toast

The Friendly Toast

Table

The Music Hall's pretty ceiling

The Music Hall’s pretty ceiling

A beautiful theatre for the show

A beautiful theatre for the show

Pre-show selfie

Pre-show selfie

stage

The Lone Bellow looks really different through an iPhone

The Lone Bellow looks really different through an iPhone

Zach on the floor leading the audience in our part

Zach on the floor conducting audience participation

My concert friend Colin was there, too, and he sent me The Lone Bellow’s set list for the night:

I Let You Go

You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional

You Never Need Nobody

You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To

Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold

Georgia Will

Watch Over Us (off mic)

Two Sides of Lonely (off mic)

Tree to Grow

Bleeding Out

Angel From Montgomery (Prine cover)

Hickory to Telluride

Button

The One You Should’ve Let Go

——

Slip Slidin’ Away (Simon cover)

Teach Me to Know

One of the biggest highlights of the night for me was when the band stepped away from the microphones and Brian led on “Watch Over Us.” His delivery of that beautiful song was breathtaking. He got a standing ovation. It was wonderful to hear “Two Sides of Lonely” off microphone, too, and both songs gave the night a genuinely intimate feel.

The band dedicated their performance of  “Angel From Montgomery” to the legendary John Prine, who is currently fighting lung cancer. Zach told us they’d recently played the song on the Cayamo Cruise and Brian’s hero, Kris Kristofferson, impromptuly jumped onstage to sing it with them. Check out this video of that moment.

I was totally taken with The Lone Bellow’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Slip Slidin’ Away” with Kanene on lead vocal during their encore. Someone took a video of it that night, so you can see exactly what I mean! It was one of those rare times when a cover was absolutely better than the original. I sang it for days after the show. They closed the night with the crowd signing along on “Teach Me to Know” and sent us on our happy way. If The Lone Bellow isn’t on your radar, well, you are more than just missing out. They are spectacular. What a wonderful night.

xo,

bree

I can’t resist. Here are some proper Lone Bellow pictures from the last time I saw them:

The most fabulous Lone Bellow. My DSLR camera does them far more justice!

The most fabulous Lone Bellow. My DSLR camera does them far more justice!

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An Acoustic Evening with Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

My college classmate and teacher friend, the extraordinary Ken Templeton, wrote a beautiful recap of the Lone Bellow/Aoife O’Donovan show we saw together back in November. He caught the concert writing bug, so here’s what Ken had to say about the Lyle Lovett/John Hiatt show he saw last month at the State Theatre in Portland. I didn’t make it out for the show, so consider this the first official post on whatbreedidntsee.com! Thanks, Ken!

xo,

bree

Wow. As the steady bass line of “Walk on the Wild Side” rolled through Merrill Auditorium, the crowd in Portland left the Lyle Lovett/John Hiatt concert grinning. To a person, grinning. I don’t think it was just that the music was great or that they played literally every single song requested from shouts by audience members. Their performance was humble and sincere and, moreover, it really did feel like they wanted you there with them. Now, if that was an act, it was pretty convincing. I am choosing, in my elated state, to believe that these two giant musicians really did want me there.

They came on stage, Lyle wearing a lobster bib, winning over the crowd immediately. (This reminded me, oddly, of seeing Wyclef at Bates many years ago when he strolled onstage in a hooded sweatshirt and when he turned to the crowd, it was a Bates sweatshirt.)

It started with John playing “Real Fine Love” and Lyle joining him on the last chorus. Throughout the show, each of them talked about the other’s songs. Lyle said, “That’s a very positive song,” to which John replied that he is a “glass half empty” kind of guy, so he writes positive songs to compensate. Lyle kind of smirked and said he’d play a happy song too, and led of his selections with “She’s No Lady (She’s My Wife).” John took his first of many solos over Lyle’s chopping, rhythmic chords. It’s a funny, catchy tune, if you don’t know it. The best verse has to be: “The preacher asked her, and she said “I do.” / The preacher asked me. She said, “He does too.” / The preacher said, “I pronounce you 99 to life.” / Son, she’s no lady, she’s your wife.”

The two of them are so different, but they complement each other so well. Hiatt is often gritty, his raspy voice echoing the sentiment of his songs while Lyle’s unique, smooth vocals often belie the sentiment of his own. A good example about that sleight of hand:  after Hiatt played “Tennessee Plates,” and a little banter about stealing cars, Lyle played “L.A. County,” an uptempo, really fun song about driving for miles to kill the woman you love and the man she’s marrying. The chorus for that song is that: “And the lights of L.A. County / Look like diamonds in the sky / When you’re driving through the hours / With an old friend at your side.” The old friend is a Colt 45.

One of the highlights for me was hearing Lyle and John talk about Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, two giants of blues music in the 1960s and 1970s. Lyle talked about being told to buy their album and immediately being drawn to the song “White Boy Lost in the Blues,” which he finally recorded on his last album. Lyle mentioned that Michael Franks wrote the song. (He also wrote “You Bring Out the Boogie in Me,” also on that album Sonny & Brownie, with a stride piano rhythm that you cannot help but dance to.) As an aside from the concert, that album, Sonny and Brownie, is absolutely spectacular. Their version, with John Mayall, the British blues musician who must have been in awe to play with two of his heroes. It’s a really funny song about authenticity: “You bought your six-string Gibson. / You bought a great big amp. / You try to sing like Muddy Waters / And play like Lightnin’ Sam. / But since I blowed my harp / You feelin’ mean and confused. / We got you chained to your earphones / You’re just a white boy lost in the blues.” There is so much in this song. Not the least is that white musicians–particularly in Britain–were in awe of blues kings like Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Sam Hopkins, but there is so much more than buying a fancy guitar, an amp, and then trying to mimic. And the reason that Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt can play the song and pull it off is that they are both authentic and keenly aware of their indebtedness to musicians in general, and African-American blues artists in particular, for the music they play.

At one point in the show, Lyle talked about seeing John play for the first time in 1981. Lyle didn’t record an album until 5 years later, so he saw John as “a fan.” He specifically referenced, “those of you who are musicians in the audience,” and commented on how special it is for musicians to meet and play with their heroes. I think it was that sense of identification that drew me in–the idea that these guys, who play beautifully, are both Grammy nominees (Lyle’s won a few), and who are heroes–haven’t forgotten what it feels like to be a fan. You could see it in the way they watched and listened to each other, joined in on some songs together, and talked about other musicians. There was genuine humility.

I was amazed, truly amazed, at their willingness to take requests. After six songs or so, most of the rest of the set was dictated by the audience. Someone asked Hiatt to do “My Business,” a song he agreed to do but couldn’t remember all the lyrics. Then “This Old Porch” a tune Lyle wrote with Robert Earl Keen: “This old porch is just a long time / Of waiting and forgetting / And remembering the coming back / And not crying about the leaving. / And remembering the falling down / And the laughter of the curse of luck / From all of those sons-of-bitches / Who said we’d never get back up.” It was great – as most of the requests were. A woman asked Hiatt to do “Have a Little Faith in Me,” a song I assume he would have played anyway, but it was, again, stunning to me how responsive the two of them were. In several cases, they had tuned and set the capo and were ready to play when someone shouted out a song, and they just said, “Sure,” or “Yeah, I can do that one,” and re-tuned. Crazy. “Have a Little Faith in Me” was magical. It is a classic song and the audience was quite simply rapt. “If I Had a Boat” was another request, and another highlight. Huge applause from the crowd at the ultimate line in that song: “The mystery masked was smart / And got himself a Tonto. / Cause Tonto did the dirty work for free. / But Tonto he was smarter, / Said one day “Kimosabe, / Kiss my ass, I bought a boat, / I’m going out to sea.”

It really was one after another. “Fiona,” was a blast, and led to a great story of them playing that song only to have an audience member get their attention during the song by taking out his glass eye and showing it to them. At the time, Lyle wasn’t sure if John had seen this happen, because Hiatt was just “looking straight ahead, playing the song.” But John said he had seen it but knew if he’d looked at Lyle, he would have “fallen off my chair” laughing. It was another instance of being drawn-in. We all know that feeling, and it is most common among friends – those people we communicate with through looks and body language and inside jokes and knowing looks.

Their conversation about “Fiona” was also a riot. It went something like this:

John: “That’s such a visual song.”

Lyle: [looking at Hiatt] “…”

John: “I mean, the bayou…and Fiona.”

Lyle: “…”

John: “And her long hair.”

Lyle: “…”

John: “And I picture her with, you know, one eye.”

Lyle: [looks at the crowd] “…”

John: “Not like [covers one of his eyes], you know. …Like one…big…eye.”

Lyle: “… You’re a good friend.”

The set capped with “Are You Ready for a Thing Called Love,” the only true duet in the set and highlighted the wonderful way that rasp and lilt of their two distinct voices intermingled and then “Step Into This House,” a song Lyle credited to Guy Clark, one of their songwriting friends who, apparently, has fallen ill. What a gorgeous end to their set: Here’s a book of poems was given me / By a girl I used to know / I guess I read it front to back / Fifty times or so / It’s all about the good life / And stayin’ at ease with the world / It’s funny how I love that book / And I never loved that girl. / Step inside my house, girl / I’ll sing for you a song. / I’ll tell you ’bout where I’ve been. / It wouldn’t  take too long. / I’ll show you all the things that I own, / My treasures, you might say. / Couldn’t be more’n ten dollars worth / But they brighten up my day.”

They skipped off stage to raucous, grateful applause and came back for two more tunes. John picked up his other guitar, a worn, scuffed Gibson, and ripped “Memphis in the Meantime.” Lyle ended with “My Baby Don’t Tolerate,” which, given the extensive discussion and references to the blues, was a pretty perfect end to an amazing, amazing night. As one of the audience members called out: “Thank you, John. Thank you, Lyle.” John smiled, and said, “You bet.”

 

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Max Garcia Conover and Friends

Friday, January 24, 2014

Lion’s Pride, Brunswick, Maine

Portland’s Max Garcia Conover is playing a couple of weekly shows, and he’s bringing his friends. MGC plays Mondays at Flask Lounge in Portland from 6-8 PM and Fridays at Lion’s Pride in Brunswick from 9-11 PM.

What a delightful Friday. We gave midterm exams at school for half the day. A bunch of us gathered to grade exams together in Dennis’ room in the afternoon—he has a classroom with windows in our predominantly windowless school. My boyfriend Jeff texted to say that he had an unexpected night off and could join a growing group of us for a dessert gathering and then Max’s first Lion’s Pride Friday night show! I was so excited!

Jeff and I had dinner at Bangkok Garden and one of my seniors was our server. She was excited to see me out on date night and told me she very much approved when Jeff was out of earshot. We picked up Will and headed over to Chris and Courtney’s for delicious treats and some time to catch up with friends before heading over to Max’s show.

An impromptu idea to rally the group for Max’s first Friday night show at Lion’s Pride was wildly successful. By the middle of his first set, the room was completely full with at least twenty of us—including most of the teachers in our friend group who decided to rally for Max late on a Friday night. I hadn’t seen Max play in a few months, not since he opened for David Berkeley back in November at One Longfellow Square. It was great to hear him sing the songs that I play on repeat while I’m driving or grading—like “Thatch House” and “The Creek Woman Poet” from Birches Lo.

Max Garcia Conover

Max Garcia Conover

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Max claims to hate sing-alongs because they can be super awkward, but he always makes us do them anyway. We stood and belted “Honey, we’ve been trying…” during our audience participation part on “The Start of Fables” and it felt really good to be awake that late on a Friday night and singing with a room full of good friends. I liked Max’s new song, “Home,” and the idea behind it—that we think the place we grew up in is really lame until we leave and come back (I haven’t had that moment yet, but I grew up in Bangor).

Singing along with MGC

Singing along with MGC

Max said he is thinking of these weekly shows as a curator might, and that he hopes to bring friends to the mic every week. Sammie Francis and her new husband (!), Max Taylor, did a couple of songs. Our dear friend Brady joined Max on The Avett Brothers’ “Murder In The City.” I love Max’s story about meeting Jim Avett (the Brothers’ dad) at The Great Blue Heron Music Festival, but I’ll let you hear that story for yourself some week.

Sammie Francis and Max Taylor

Sammie Francis and Max Taylor

Brady and Max

Brady and Max

Max gave a lovely introduction about his teacher and music mentor, Ken Templeton. Ken and I graduated from Bowdoin together and he is someone I love running into so we can catch up about the bands we’re currently listening to and whatever Daytrotter session we last fell in love with. Ken took the stage and said that his professor Pete Coviello said that that best teachers teach kids how to love something and he was happy to have done that with music for Max.  Ken said he was so taken with The Lone Bellow (I will take full credit for introducing y’all to them) when we saw them together in November, that he decided to play “Watch Over Us.” I hadn’t heard Ken play in AGES and I was floored by his power. I was so stunned that I forgot to clap when he finished the song, too! Amazing, Ken!

Ken Templeton

Ken Templeton

Max sent the tip jar around and joked that if you claim deductions on your taxes for musical equipment because music is your profession but that you don’t make any money at it, then the IRS demotes it to “hobby.” He called his fiancée, the lovely and talented Sophie Nelson, up to the mic to sing “You’re the Farthest I Go.” (They did a great Damien Jurado cover together earlier in the evening, too). That new song is so very sweet and Max and Sophie sound great together.

Sophie and Max

Sophie and Max

Here are some things I was reminded of Friday at Max’s show:

1. 9-11 PM doesn’t feel as late if you’re surrounded by friends.

2. Be ready to sing along.

3. Don’t be the person who doesn’t have any cash for the tip jar.

4. These friends are the best anyone could ask for. We filled the room to support Max, as always.

Come out some week and join us.

xo,

bree

PS—Max gave out copies of his first full-length album, Burrow, at Lion’s Pride. Jeff and I listened to it in the car on Saturday and Jeff’s youngest son, Max, was already singing along to it by Sunday morning.

I love this blurry picture I snapped of Max at the end of the night.

I love this blurry picture I snapped of Max at the end of the night.

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The Alternate Routes with The Ballroom Thieves

Friday, January 17, 2014

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

Happy 2014!! I had a fantastic winter break in Hawaii and am feeling rejuvenated and excited for a great year of live music as whatbreesees.com starts year number three. Thank you so much for all of your support!

I was pretty happy to be in Hawaii in December!

I was pretty happy to be in Hawaii in December!

I was really glad to start my concert year with The Alternate Routes and The Ballroom Thieves. I’ve seen both bands a couple of times before and know they put on a great live show. I had a marvelous afternoon before the show, too—sadly missing The Alternate Routes’ Studio Z on WCLZ I was invited to—but got to catch up over gelato with my dear friend Jess who was only briefly in town before jetting off to her last semester of architecture school in Minneapolis. I also randomly got to have a leisurely dinner with my long lost high school friend Hedda at Green Elephant before the show. And my great Friday only got better…

Boston’s The Ballroom Thieves is quickly becoming one of my favorite live acts. They have it all—powerful songs, musicianship, comedic banter, and chemistry. If you haven’t seen them live, you really are missing out. Martin Early (guitar/vocals), Devin Mauch (percussion/vocals), and Calin Peters (cello/vocals) took the stage and opened with an acoustic song around a single microphone. Their airy, beautiful harmonies enticed people to start moving towards the stage. “Coward’s Son” was next, and it’s my favorite Ballroom Thieves song. Martin greeted us and told us they love Portland. No one clapped. Devin piped in and joked that sometimes people like their city and we tried again and clapped some for Portland.

Boston's The Ballroom Thieves

Boston’s The Ballroom Thieves

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The Thieves showed off their percussive prowess on “Down By the River.” The crowd was still really far from the stage, so the Thieves asked us who would dare to stand within 15 feet of them. Two people bravely moved forward and the boys joked that it was funny because they had friends and family in the crowd and didn’t know either of the two.

“Wait for the Water” was really pretty. They joked (a theme of the night, which I appreciated) about their pick me up song called “Bullet.” They mentioned their show a few months back with The Last Bison (which was quite a night—here’s my recap). The “Vampires” introduction got a lot of laughs. Martin said it was about the Twilight trilogy, which they’d recently learned was a “quadrology” now. He said that he and Devin were Team Jacob (because “dogs are a man’s best friend and descended from wolves”) and Calin is Team Edward. She joked about the hotness of sparkly men. I’m on Team Charlie.

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Martin played a brand new song “about a big tree” called “Oak” solo. Devin and Calin came back on stage and Devin introduced his band mates with hilarious details, including Calin’s two rabbits and Martin’s 25 week-old (long pause) puppy. He joked that Martin’s mom was probably shaking for a minute there. They played “Brother” about “a sibling who is a boy” and “Drones” off their newest EP with a great cello intro from Calin. Her cello parts are so rich and emotive that they’re like adding a fourth vocalist to the mix. Impressive.

Calin Peters

Calin Peters

Devin Mauch

Devin Mauch

Martin Early and Calin Peters

Martin Early and Calin Peters

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“Save Me” is so pretty and I was happy to hear it again. The Thieves thanked us for coming out to the show—their best turnout in Portland so far—and closed their set with “Archers,” which will be on their upcoming full-length album. The Ballroom Thieves has been spot on all three times I’ve seen them. Check out this post from when they played with Swear and Shake and The Lone Bellow back in June. I like them more and more each time I see them. They really shine live and I’m sure they earned a bunch more fans that night.

I could tell I was out of concert-going practice waiting for The Alternate Routes to take the stage around 10PM. I’d taken a five-week concert break (because I always want this blog to be about seeing music because I love it and I don’t want it to feel like work) and it was hard to stay awake so late on a Friday night!

Ethan Minton from 98.9 WCLZ took the stage to introduce The Alternate Routes. He said it’s really great to be able to promote a band by playing their music on the radio—especially when they’re such great people. He mentioned the Studio Z The Alternate Routes recorded earlier in the day and invited the band to the stage. The Alternate Routes took the stage as a full band. I’d seen Tim and Eric as a duo opening for Martin Sexton last time, so was excited to see them surrounded by a band.

98.9 WCLZ's Ethan Minton introducing The Alternate Routes

98.9 WCLZ’s Ethan Minton introducing The Alternate Routes

The Alternate Routes' Tim Warren

The Alternate Routes’ Tim Warren

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The Alternate Routes' Eric Donnelly

The Alternate Routes’ Eric Donnelly

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Tim told us during the beginning on their set that they’re in the process of recording an album that they hope to have out in a few months. He told us how much they love Portland and thanked WCLZ and Ethan and said they’d wanted to play at Port City Music Hall for a long time. I was excited to hear new music that’s being recorded right now, but was happy to hear “Ordinary,” which is from their first album Good and Reckless and True.

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There was a little girl in the front row who was pumped about the show. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I did a double take and realized that I knew her—her dad installed my new furnace back in November. It’s a small world! Her mom kept taking videos of Faith enjoying the show and panning back and forth to the band onstage. It was adorable. It’s that kind of joy that I like to see at a show. I’m always dumbfounded by people at shows who spend their time at the bar talking (usually loudly) over the performers. I don’t see the point. Anyhow, Faith restored my faith (see what I did there?) in the joy that concert going can bring.

Tim performed “Won’t Let Go,” which he wrote for his bride and performed at their wedding last year. The audience happily sang our part on “Standing At Your Door,” and people who hadn’t seen The Alternate Routes before laughed when Tim picked up a toolbox to use as percussion on “Future’s Nothing New.” Tim nailed the harmonica part on that song. Eric played killer guitar all night, too.

Tim using the toolbox as percussion on "Future's Nothing New." It's a crowd pleaser.

Tim using the toolbox as percussion on “Future’s Nothing New.” It’s a crowd pleaser.

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Tim is an adorable front man. At some point in the set he paused to say “I’m really happy. Are you really happy? This is a special night for us. The rooms we play don’t always fill up but tonight they did and we are grateful.” I hadn’t turned around the whole show (and I was in the front row, as always), but he inspired me to do so and the room was pretty full. I was glad to hear “Time is a Runaway” from back in the day, too. Tim talked about writing it in his uncle’s living room in Beverly, Massachusetts.

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A really cool thing happened over the summer for The Alternate Routes. They were approached by a company and introduced to Newtown Kindness, an organization founded to promote kindness in memory of Charlotte Bacon, whose life was tragically taken at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Newtown Kindness needed a song and “Nothing More” came to life. Tim talked about how the video for “Nothing More” is home movie footage of his sister running around and his mom pregnant with him in 1980. It’s a very sweet video. People have been encouraged to participate in the movement by synching their own home videos to the song. Tim gave a shout out to Deb and her yoga teacher Kathy. He said he saw Deb’s touching video and stopped in his tracks. He said “the whole thing makes me want to hug everything.” Music has the power to bring people together and to heal. It’s why I see so many live shows, I think. There’s magic in every concert venue—stories told, friends made, moments that make you pause and reflect. For me, live music is the best thing.

I really liked their last song, a new one called “Give,” and was very glad The Alternate Routes came back to the stage to end the night with “Carry Me Home.” This night was a lovely start to my concert going year.

xo,

bree

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Carbon Leaf with Sarah Blacker

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

It’s been a crazy week and a half since I saw my last concert of 2013. I’ve taken refuge at my boyfriend’s place to have access to power and the Internet. My house is covered in ice and is without power and heat. I’m packed for my trip to Hawaii tonight. Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to make my way Westward despite airport delays. Yes, I know these are first world problems. I suspect this will be my shortest blog post ever since I’m getting picked up in less than 90 minutes. Let’s see. (Nope, I’m still long winded even when I’m in a hurry!).

I was really happy to finally see Boston’s Sarah Blacker. She emailed me almost a year ago to invite me to a show in Maine, and even though I couldn’t make it, I checked out her website and really liked her crystal clear voice. I got in touch about this show, and she was kind enough to invite me again. Sarah was incredibly comfortable and interactive with the audience at Port City Music Hall, which I’m always a fan of, and she can really sing. I loved her cover of “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” She told us about an upcoming video for “Shiver” that was filmed outside in icy weather while she wore a flimsy dress.

The lovely Sarah Blacker

The lovely Sarah Blacker

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Sarah met Carbon Leaf in South Carolina and they’ve been friends since. She was gifted a beautiful ukulele named Leo (my uke is named Alice) and played a couple of songs on it for us. I was really impressed with Sarah’s banter when she introduced “The Most Beautiful Thing” to us—she said it was about someone she was dating who died in a car accident to memorialize him, but also to forgive the sobering moment and to keep drinking. I absolutely appreciated her song “Perfectly Imperfect” about trying to give up the idea of being perfect. Throughout her set she was incredibly sweet and personable. She also really knows how to make the most of her solo sound by beating on her guitar when she needs some percussion.

Sarah plugged Material Objects next door and told us she’d gotten her whole outfit, including grey cowboy boots there earlier in the day. It was a perfect segue to her song “Cowboy.” She closed with “These Summer Nights”—thinking back to warmer times, and said goodnight to us. I said hello to Sarah before I took off that night and she really was a dear. I’m always happy when good musicians are also good people.

Virginia’s Carbon Leaf took the festively decorated stage to an enthusiastic crowd, welcomed by 98.9 WCLZ’s Ethan Minton. My friends Don and Stacey joined me in the happy crowd, too. We met three years ago at the same venue the last time Carbon Leaf played Portland and have been in touch ever since. It was so great to see you guys!

Carbon Leaf concert friends Don and Stacey

Carbon Leaf concert friends Don and Stacey

Carbon Leaf's setlist

Carbon Leaf’s setlist

There was an especially enthusiastic band of folks in the first few rows who knew a lot of Carbon Leaf’s songs by heart. We sang a whole verse for Barry on “One Prairie Outpost.” Someone in the front was using FaceTime to bring a female friend along for the experience and Barry grabbed the phone and took her on a quick backstage tour and then set the phone up on stage for a song as well. Apparently she was home sick but had really wanted to be at the show. It was adorable. Barry also gave Ethan Minton a well-deserved shout out for playing their music on 98.9. He also apologized because it had been three years since they’d played Portland.

WCLZ's Ethan Minton introducing Carbon Leaf

WCLZ’s Ethan Minton introducing Carbon Leaf

Barry using FaceTime

Barry using FaceTime

I always like the gospel feel of “Raise the Roof.” All of the guys surrounded one mic in the center of the stage for a handful of songs, including “Red Punch, Green Punch.” We sang along on “Comfort” and Barry told us how nice it was to hear that we knew the words. He then moved into the sales portion of the evening. Carbon Leaf left their label in 2010 and is releasing music independently. He joked with us that they’ve put out two albums this year that most of us haven’t bought. After the Portland show, they had four shows left in a 50-city tour. Carter was featured on “The Fox and the Hare.” I’d forgotten how talented the guys in this group are because I hadn’t seen them in such a long time. They wrapped their set with “The Boxer” and really whipped the already appreciative crowd into a frenzy.

Carbon Leaf's Barry Privett

Carbon Leaf’s Barry Privett

Jason Neal

Jason Neal

Terry Clark and Barry

Terry Clark and Barry

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Carter Gravatt

Carter Gravatt

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Bassist Jon Markel on lead vocals

Bassist Jon Markel on lead vocals

The guys came back out onstage for an encore and had bassist Jon Markel set up the story behind his song “Carter’s Christmas Beard.” He joked that Carter’s beard is his favorite muse. It’s nice to see a band that clearly likes each other a lot. We laughed through the song with the guys. They played “Tombstone vs. Ashes” and then left us with “Let Your Troubles Roll By,” which is easily my favorite Carbon Leaf song. I thought as I left after the show how that was a really good last live song to hear in a year. I turned on my car to head home and Carbon Leaf’s “What About Everything” was playing on 98.9 WCLZ. This was a solid end to a fantastic year of live music. Thanks to everyone for your support of whatbreesees.com in my first two years! I’ll be back in 2014!

xo,

bree

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