SnugHouse and Max Garcia Conover

Friday, March 22, 2019

Portland House of Music and Events, Portland, Maine

There’s nothing quite like starting the weekend with not one, but two, of your favorite live acts! And, in this case, they played a show together!! This show was my dream double bill, and it was everything I knew it would be. I got a killer parking spot in front of PHOME right before 8pm. I love that seats were set up for us, because neither of these bands is putting out a dance album anytime soon (challenge accepted?!), and I got a second row spot a few minutes before my friend Max Garcia Conover took the stage. Sophie sat with me, and I was so glad to get to see her excited facial expressions as her husband put on a truly inspired show. Max came out of the gate with “Crow Song,” “My Neighbor Joe,” “Self Portrait,” “New Sweden,” and “Rich Man.” I find Max’s live show so compelling–he’s earnest and humble–a true storyteller. On this night, he played hard, sang loud, thumped his kickdrum, and had the crowd in the palm of his hand (as usual).

SnugHouse is such a delight. I love their shows because they’re a total lovefest. Nikhil Dasgupta, Alex Millan, Laura Pauline, Rosie Borden, and new-ish fifth member Sam Kyzivat have chemistry and talent to spare. They played virtually every song they’ve written in their short tenure as a group, including “I Couldn’t Be” (sung around one microphone), “Irie,” and “Glass” (from their 2018 EP, Like Water). Rosie brings an effervescence to stage that juxtaposes nicely with SnugHouse’s typically reflective songs. Rosie’s parents were in the audience and had driven up from Connecticut for the show. They were adorable and blew kisses to Rosie from their seats on the floor. Laura’s folks were there from Florida, and I chatted with Nikhil’s dad after the show. I told you that SnugHouse shows are full of love, and it’s not an exaggeration.

I really appreciate that everyone in SnugHouse shares the spotlight, writes their own songs, and plays multiple instruments, too. Laura debuted a new song she wrote at SnugHouse’s EP release show back in November called “A Love I’ve Never Had Before,” and I loved hearing it with a full arrangement. Her vocals on their covers of “Stayin’ Alive” and “Fever” are crazy impressive, too. The crowd was captivated and asked for an encore. I was hopeful when Nikhil sat down at the piano and said that they hadn’t played this song in a while. I wondered–could it be my favorite SnugHouse song–the one I’ve listened to seriously no fewer than 100 times?! He said that “it’s about having to say goodbye to a place when you’re not ready to” and then he scanned the crowd, saw me, and said “this song is dedicated to Bree” and I was so touched. “Brunswick” (Bowdoin’s my alma mater, too) shows the maturity of Nikhil’s lyrics. My favorite in this song–“So find my hand and walk me through the unfinished parts. Through my search for beginnings in the end, the truth that I can’t bend.” What a delight to hear that song in person for the first time and frankly it was an honor to hear my name mentioned from stage, too. Thanks so much for that surprise, Nikhil. SnugHouse–I love y’all so much. What you have created together is truly special.

xo,

bree

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Lucy Dacus with Mal Blum and Fenne Lily

Sunday, March 17, 2019

SPACE Gallery, Portland, Maine

This was such a lovely night of music. It’s been rare to see shows with a listening audience, but SPACE seems to draw the right folks who really care about the craft of songwriting. I was so pleased to be able to hear the whole show instead of it being drowned out by people treating the show as background noise. I attribute it, also, to the evident love folks in the crowd had for all three artists. So many people sang along and were really joyful all night. It was such a salve for the sadness show-going has brought me in the last couple of years. I’m glad my concert buddy Sean was there to witness it with me, too.

Fenne Lily didn’t introduce herself until the very end of her set, but I was curious about her from the first few bars of her first sad song. Her guitarist’s name is impressively hard to find online, but they were clearly great friends. Both on electric guitars, Fenne Lily’s songs were honest and she shared what inspired nearly all of them (which is solid gold for me at a show). She was charming and funny and I’ll definitely listen to more of her. I did see that she’s somewhat internet famous. Her song “Top to Toe” has over 30 million plays on Spotify. If you like context like I do, check out this interview with Fenne Lily. She complemented the audience last night. She said “thank you for being loud and quiet in the right places.” I totally agree. It was SO NICE to see a show surrounded by people who wanted to be there for the music. It’s becoming more and more rare these days.

 

Fenne Lily

Mal Blum took the stage and I had to quickly search my bag for my earplugs. They were LOUD, but in a captivating, well-oiled way. Mal introduced the band and told us they’re all great friends and grateful to get to make music and tour together. Mal told us “Things Still Left To Say” is about being closeted, and told us they got to have a “Lady and Tramp moment with a turtle” in the video. Mal’s music is about heavy subjects–identity, acceptance, loss–and I was so impressed by how open Mal was when introducing songs. Mal also had self-deprecating charm and self-awareness that I thought was really refreshing. I was also a little bit caught off guard (in a fun way) but how rocking these sad songs were. Folks loved their set and sang along a lot. There were clearly a lot of people in the room to cheer on this band.

Mal Blum

Lucy Dacus took the stage and opened with a new (beautiful) song, “Fool’s Gold.” Lucy really lit up the room with her heartfelt songs and humility. I was standing right in front of the drum kit, so I wished I could have heard her lyrics better, but we were entranced. I’m trying to figure out how someone who is 23 years old has her profound ability to capture emotion in lyrics. Lucy is really impressive. I was introduced to Lucy by her 2016 NPR Tiny Desk Concert and love her collaboration with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers in boygenius.

 

Lucy Dacus

IMG_6840Lucy asked if anyone had seen her play at One Longfellow Square back in 2016. She said a lot has changed in the few years since that self-booked show. Lucy and her band played songs about equally from her 2016 album, No Burden, and her 2018 album, Historian. Everyone in the crowd was super attentive and sang along. Her band stayed behind for her solo encore. She warned us that “if you wanted to leave on a high note, you might want to leave now” before playing another new song about a friend’s difficult relationship with her father that just floored me. It was such a pleasure to be in the room for this sold out show. Thanks, Lucy!

xo,

bree

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Bobby Long with Darrell Foster

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Empire, Portland, Maine

I have no memory of how British singer-songwriter Bobby Long came across my radar, but it was a long time ago and his name has been tucked away in my brain. When I saw he was coming to Empire in Portland, I bought a ticket and showed up, even though I wasn’t very familiar with his folky music. It was an odd night. There were probably 20 people in the room upstairs at Empire at the most crowded point. I sat next to a group of four who’d come all the way up from Long Island for the show and were on a Bobby Long tour road trip.

Less than a week later, most of the night has faded from my mind. Sometimes, shows just aren’t very memorable. Portland-based musician Darrell Foster opened the show, and there were probably only 10 people in the room when he took the stage. That must have been awkward for him, but he rolled with it. He had the guy from college who sang at the open mics on campus vibe. He interacted with the tiny crowd and made a real effort despite the small turnout, which I appreciate. I remember he covered The Tallest Man On Earth, too, which I enjoyed. Check out his song “Dreamer.”

Bobby Long was also pretty mellow, which matched the energy in the room. He chatted warmly with the small crowd, though, and told us what some of his songs were about, which I always appreciate. He even impromptuly covered Macy Gray’s “I Try” after an audience member requested it. There was a fair amount of back and forth chatting with the engaged people in the front of the room who’d come up to Maine from Long Island. As someone who hasn’t listened to him much, I’ve got to say that his songs all sounded alike to me. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t stay until the end of a show, but I felt like I wouldn’t miss anything remarkable if I left early, so I did. Listen to Bobby Long on World Cafe or check out his song “1985.” I heard “The Bounty of Mary Jane” live and liked it and also enjoyed Bobby’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright,” too.

Also, concert etiquette continues to be a huge issue at shows in Portland, which did surprise me given how few people were in the room. There were two women who were having drinks at a high top table 20 feet from the stage who talked super loudly through both sets. Frankly, they were so loud that I couldn’t always hear Darrell or Bobby over them and I was in the front row. Again, if you’re not going to a show to listen, why go at all? The table next to me asked them to please be quiet, but they kept cackling away. I am not surprised anymore, unfortunately. It’s sadly the thing I remember most clearly about the night. Portland concert goers–you’ve really got to get it together.

xo,

bree

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The Western Den with Oshima Brothers

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Portland House of Music and Events, Portland, Maine

Every so often, I’ll make my way to a show knowing very little about both bands. This was one of those nights, and I am *so, so glad* I was in the room for this Oshima Brothers and The Western Den show. Color me impressed.

Dan made me dinner and then I made my way over to Portland House of Music and Events right before 8pm when the Oshima Brothers were scheduled to take the stage. I ran into two of my seniors from school who are both going with me to Costa Rica in April and we caught up about our February vacation plans before the show began. I was surprised by how many little kids were at the show with their families–most gathered together and sitting on the floor in a pile. The Oshima Brothers are from the Belfast area, and I suspect most of the folks in the room were their friends and family.

I was impressed with Sean and Jamie right away. They have a maturity and ease on stage that might come from years of practicing with your brother at home. Their songwriting, musicianship, and confidence on stage was compelling. Jamie was busy making most of the sound that night with pedals and foot percussion and a variety of instruments, too. Their harmonies are lush and Sean’s falsetto is lovely. 98.9 WCLZ is currently playing their newest single “Ellie.” I also enjoyed their excellent cover of The Bee Gees’ “How Deep is Your Love.” Sean was super enthusiastic about the Diriga Quartet who accompanied the brothers for a few songs and brought their songs to even greater life.

Sean and Jamie Oshima are the Oshima Brothers

The Oshima Brothers joined by the Diriga Quartet

This tired kiddo slept through most of the first set

The Western Den came together at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and their musicianship is dazzling. Co-led by Deni Hlavinka from Virginia on piano and Chris West from Bermuda on guitar–the two met online on a Berklee accepted students forum seven years ago–The Western Den also included three more musicians on drums, violin, and trumpet.

The Western Den with the Diriga Quartet

Deni talks the most on stage, and I appreciate musicians who give the audience context for the songs we hear live. She introduced “Company” as a song about “the temporary moment you’re with family and can appreciate the sacredness of that” featuring the fabulous Diriga Quartet, who Deni asked to join their band permanently. She introduced “xx” (named for the female chromosome) by telling us that she is named after her grandmother and feels like “there’s a power in belonging to where you’ve come from.”

The Western Den’s new album, A Light Left On, is stunning. It’s beautiful from start to finish–honest, vulnerable, layered, and just supremely listable. I’m only a few listens through and it’s mesmerizing and reveals itself a little more each time. It’s also absolutely impossible for me to pick a favorite song or two as their ethereal, airy, orchestrated folk/pop songs are 100% up my alley. Their Facebook page says this about the album–

“’A Light Left On’ weaves through struggles of love, purpose, self-actualization, and the ephemeral nature of all things. and through all of this, to hold on with all of your might to the glint of unwavering hope for the certainty of belonging and the unapologetic pursuit of what is waiting for you.

you are important. you are a vibrant and powerful being. you are the light left on. this is for you.”

Watch The Western Den’s Daytrotter session recorded earlier this month in Iowa and get to know this truly impressive band.

xo,

bree

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Lula Wiles with Mia Bertelli

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

I saw Lula Wiles open for Mipso in 2016 and for Darlingside in 2017 and I was eager to see them headline a show. Dan made me a quick pre-show dinner after work and I made my way over to One Longfellow Square for Lula Wiles’ sold out show. OLS was packed when I arrived, but I managed to find a single seat in the corner near the stage. Lula Wiles–Isa Burke, Eleanor Buckland and Mali Obomsawin–are all Mainers, so I think the room was packed with friends and family. Their recent exposure on NPR couldn’t have hurt, either. I’m happy for them that the word about Lula Wiles is getting out!

Mia Bertelli took the stage with Benjamin Foss, and sisters Edith and Elsie Gawler. Mia told us it was Ben’s debut on the upright bass. They all live in the Belfast area and gig regularly in that neck of the woods. Their harmonies are just lovely. Mia joked that they’d played out the night of the Super Bowl and might make their band name Mia Bertelli and the Harmony Touchdowns. I was fascinated to learn that everyone on stage all night (except Lula Wiles drummer, Sean Trischka) met at Maine Fiddle Camp. If Maine Fiddle Camp needs to drum up business, they should have just recorded this show as inspiration for the talent they help foster. One of the Gawler sisters acknowledged that night’s highlighted local organization, 317 Main, where their mom, Ellen, happens to teach. The quartet performed many songs about water, including “Dip and Sway.” To say that this opening band warmed up the audience is an understatement.I’ve been seeing fewer and fewer shows, and it’s because folks in audiences have grown increasingly rude–talking incessantly, recording the show with their phones above their heads, and even pushing (a lot). I’ve started to avoid shows at bigger venues in town, and I realized 45 minutes into this intimate show at One Longfellow Square–one of Portland’s only true listening rooms–I was just so grateful to be in the room and sharing a concert experience with an audience that really wanted to be right there, too.

Everyone was pumped for Lula Wiles, and they delivered. It’s such a pleasure to hear songs with depth that are steeped in social commentary from a trio of young women who are impressive musicians with beautiful voices. Isa called this show their home state record release show, and they played a lot of songs from their second album, What Will We Do. Check out NPR First Listen’s review of their sophomore album. Lula Wiles met at Maine Fiddle Camp, but they also refined their sound together at Berklee College of Music. They have both an ease and a sophistication from both of those worlds, too.A trapping of growing success, Isa told us that a girl who was mean to her all through school wanted to hang out with her during her last visit home. She wrote a fabulous new song about it, which included the refrain “We’re not making plans, Maryann.” Lula Wiles covered “The Pain of Loving You” by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner on their record and played it for us. Mali teased Isa before they started singing, “this is another song about being alone, right Isa?” Isa responded, “happy love songs might happen at some point, but tonight is not that night.” It might have been Eleanor who interjected that “it’s not really a Lula Wiles show unless you get to learn a lot about our personal lives.” I really appreciate seeing a band in person that wears their hearts on their sleeves and interacts with each other and with the audience and creates a true concert experience–even if they’re gently picking on each other.

Mali lamented the “exploitation and erasure of Native people” asked us to reflect on “what it is like to be Native in a country that was not made for Native people” during “Good Old American Values.” As the trio tuned their instruments to prepare, Mali joked “we have to be perfectly in tune to talk about colonialism, so bear with us.” Mali also took the lead on “Morphine,” which she dedicated to anyone who has struggled with addiction.

Isa picked up a banjo (was that the third or fourth instrument she played that night?) and took the lead on “Shaking as It Turns.” Lula Wiles wrapped up their set on a high note and the audience jumped to a standing ovation. The trio returned to the stage and covered Lucius’ “Go Home” a cappella around a single microphone. I was glad to hear a song without any instruments to sit back and enjoy Lula Wiles’ easy, airy harmonies without any distractions.What a show! Lula Wiles is the real deal, y’all!

xo,

bree

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Kacey Musgraves with Natalie Prass

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

Kacey Musgraves was just announced as an addition to the Newport Folk Festival lineup this summer. The Newport Festivals Foundation will be supporting her alma mater–Mineola High School in Texas–by purchasing new instruments for the band program there, too. Kacey said she grew up in a tiny Texas town at the show, and Google tells me that the population of Mineola was 4,515 in 2010, so she’s no liar.

I got to see Kacey Musgraves last week at State Theatre, and she was a delight. I went on faith–having only heard her song “Slow Burn,” but she’s received so many accolades for songwriting that I decided I needed to be there for what will surely be her first and only State Theatre show. The show was sold out because Kacey is already well-known in the country music world (I think? I wouldn’t know, really), but Sean and I both got half priced tickets on StubHub so we could be there.

Natalie Prass opened. She looked like Rainbow Brite in a pleather blue dress, and her band was all dress in blue, too. She told us she was from Richmond, Virginia, but has lived in Nashville for almost a decade and that she’d played the State Theatre twice before with other groups. I looked it up, and she’d been the keyboardist in Jenny Lewis’ band. Natalie worked the crowd and had spunk. I recognized “Short Court Style” from 98.9 WCLZ.

The break between acts was pretty long, and it was because Kacey’s staging was awesome. She took the stage dramatically by climbing up a staircase and suddenly appearing with a spotlight behind her while she opened with “Slow Burn.”The crowd went wild. Kacey is beautiful. She wore sequins. Her songs have heart and honesty and a spirit of inclusion. She kind of took me by surprise, because that’s not the vibe country music gives off. Kacey said as much when she introduced “Follow Your Arrow.” She said something like, “country music isn’t very inclusive, and I say ‘fuck that!’” She also thanked her band (who were dress all in maroon with turtlenecks and gold chains) and touring staff profusely for all of their hard work to “get the job done” and her fans for being there for her.

Kacey told us that Golden Hour, her 2018 album that won CMA’s Album of the Year, is all about falling in love with her husband, Ruston Kelly. WCLZ has also been playing his song, “Mockingbird,” and he’ll be opening for the incredible Patty Griffin at the Music Hall in Portsmouth on April 7. I already have my ticket, and am eager to see him live, too. “Butterflies” is certainly about their relationship.

The crowd sang “Merry Go ‘Round” together, and that and “Follow Your Arrow” were two of my favorites from the night. Both are from Kacey’s debut album, Same Trailer Different Park. I appreciate how she encourages people to be themselves and to ignore haters in “Follow Your Arrow,” singing–“If you can’t lose the weight/Then you’re just fat/But if you lose too much/Then you’re on crack/You’re damned if you do/And you’re damned if you don’t/So you might as well just do/Whatever you want.” That song was definitely a crowd favorite of the night, and Kacey ended her set with it right after a fabulous cover of “I Will Survive” that Natalie Prass sang with her.

Kacey played a three-song encore, starting with “Rainbow,” which is gorgeous song. The lights changed and the room lit up in rainbow colors while everyone sang along to these lyrics–”But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again/You hold tight to your umbrella, darlin’ I’m just tryin’ to tell ya’That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head.” Did I mention that this was an uplifting show? It really was. She closed her encore set with “High Horse,” which is a favorite of mine from Golden Hour.

Writing this almost two weeks later, I’d almost forgotten about the drunk girls who took selfies and talked through the whole show who stood (inevitably) right in front of me and Sean! OH! And one of then cried for a while (not about the touching songs) while her friends consoled her. Concert goers–chat with your friends and cry your eyes out if you want–but do it in the back of the room!

Kacey’s already too famous to be playing a venue as intimate as the State Theatre, so I’m pumped I got to be in the room for this one!

xo,

bree

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Lake Street Dive

Sunday, December 30, 2018

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I got a great tip early on in the career of Lake Street Dive that they were a band I’d want to see live. I saw them for the first time at One Longfellow Square back in December of 2011 and was blown away. They’d played Portland maybe once before then, but were still quite unknown. I think there were only 30 people in the teeny room that night, but I still remember being absolutely floored by Rachael Price’s voice. I started writing whatbreesees.com a month later and reviewed my second Lake Street Dive show late in 2012. The word of mouth had gotten around by then and they packed the house that night at OLS. To see Lake Street Dive live is to love them, surely, and seven years later, Lake Street Dive has earned much more of the attention they richly deserve. I’d listen to Rachael sing the phone book, if phone books were still a thing. One of the top Google searches that somehow sends people to whatbreesees.com continues to be “is Rachael Price married?” Y’all–I don’t know, but her songs make it sound like you’ve got a chance!

Dan (adorably) made a mix CD of some of his top favorite songs for me early on in our relationship. He knows how much music means to me, so totally charmed me, and Lake Street Dive’s “Good Kisser” appeared on it, too. I am sort of sad in a nostalgic way that I have to see Lake Street Dive at crowded, sold out, giant venues like Thompson’s Point these days, so I’ve kind of stopped seeing them live. Dan had never seen them live, though, so I got him a ticket as one of his Christmas presents. I even agreed to sit in the balcony with him, which is a serious rarity for me. He made me a delicious dinner, and we arrived at the State Theatre as show opener, Dustbowl Revival, took the stage.

Dustbowl Revival was spirited and had great stage presence, but their songs were too repetitive and surface level for my taste. I think they’d make an incredible wedding cover band, though, which is meant to be a compliment. They were very entertaining, but their songs didn’t pierce my soul at all, which is what makes music matter to me in a way that would make me a fan.

Lake Street Dive took the stage to an adoring, sold out crowd, and folks danced and sang their hearts out all night long. Rachael’s dance moves have reached a whole new level, Bridget killed on the upright bass, McDuck played all the instruments, Mike’s drum solo was insane, and Akie Bermiss on keys was outstanding. Akie joined the band in 2017 and has added texture and richness to their funky sound. His unexpected and straight up gorgeous cover of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” was a highlight of the whole night.

I was glad to hear all of the Lake Street Dive hits in person–“Call Off Your Dogs,” “Bad Self Portraits,” “Good Kisser,” and “You Go Down Smooth.” I was especially happy to hear Rachael gave some context for “Shame, Shame, Shame” (give me some back story at a show and I’m over the moon), saying “frustration of being powerless is real, but we also hope to put as much positivity as we can into the world with our songs. So we are expressing our frustration, but we are hoping to make some changes.” My favorite song of the night was “I Can Change,” which is the closest Lake Street Dive has to a ballad. Give me a slow, sad song for the win any day!

This deserves a special paragraph all it’s own. Lake Street Dive’s perfect cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was one the best things I’ve ever seen performed live! HOLY SH#T! What an incredible way to end a super fun night!

Dan and I chatted with Sean (who reviewed this show on Forest City Magazine) on the walk home and learned they’d played pretty much the same set list both nights, but their dazzling “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover encore was special to our show only (boom!). Something Dan especially appreciates about live music is when a band is saturated with a lineup of equally-matched, impressively talented musicians. Lake Street Dive is the epitome of talent and showmanship. What a delight to see them again live and a perfect end to my 2018 concert year, too!

xo,

bree

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