Thursday, February 23, 2012
One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME
When One Longfellow Square tells me not to miss a show, I listen. Earlier this winter, I got an email from OLS about how we should absolutely not miss Lake Street Dive, so I didn’t. It was easily one of the best shows I saw in 2011 (and I saw 52 shows, so that’s saying something!). Recently, I got another of these emails from OLS touting There Is No Sin and Old Soul as “two of the finest folk acts in Maine (or anywhere!) and not nearly enough people know it.” Since I’m writing a live music blog primarily about music in Maine, obviously I pride myself on being “in the know” about local bands. I watched There Is No Sin’s “El Cid” video on YouTube and decided they were definitely worth my time. My Portland musician friend, Max Garcia Conover, liked the video, too, so he, Sophie and I gathered for There Is No Sin’s CD release show two Thursdays ago. It was during my February vacation, so I had to look up the date (a sure sign you’re on vacation) for my notes that I jotted down during the show.
Old Soul opened the show. Six musicians from the greater Portland area and further south played piano/tambourine, djembe?, bass, drums, clarinet, and guitar. I was a little distracted at first by lead singer Mike O’Hehir’s arresting smile. He was clearly happy to be on stage and bantered shyly with the audience. Mike had picked up one of his band mates from Boston just moments before the show, and I could see/hear that they don’t get to play together as much as they’d probably like as a whole band. Their sound firmed up with each song they played together, though. I liked “Red & Gold,” which includes the optimistic lyric “I feel a lot of changes/Coming our way/Let’s dance.” They played a new song without a title that had a great country vibe, including the lines, “I saw you out of the corner of my tired eyes” and “I’ve been lost before, but I ain’t blind.” I’m looking forward to hearing that on their next album. Their first album, Old Soul, was at least partially funded through Kickstarter.com. I read the “about us” section that Mike wrote to solicit funds for the project, which read as a band biography and a very sweet love story between him and band mate Danielle Savage.
I’ve listened to Old Soul a lot in the last couple of weeks, especially when multitasking, and fully agree with Mike Olcott’s review in the Portland Press Herald that, “on the unassuming self-titled debut from the Portland-based trio Old Soul, Mike O’Hehir, Danielle Savage and Brendan Shea have harnessed a lovely, low-burning sound and splashed it across nine rainy-morning songs.” I especially like “Blackbird Calling” and “Red & Gold.”
HERE IS A CONCERT ETTIQUETTE LESSON that some folks sitting in front of me that night made me want to share with you:
Put your cell phone away during a small folk show at a tiny venue—ESPECIALLY if you are sitting in the FRONT ROW just inches from the stage! Texting and perusing the interwebs is actually quite distracting to those of us who are sitting around you. Show some respect to the artists who are performing. Also, please refrain from having lengthy full-volume conversations during the performances. I was pretty surprised by my neighbors at the show. Many years ago, a woman at One Longfellow sitting in my row actually took out a shaker and started percussing along with the band. Oh my.
The email from One Longfellow also informed me that There Is No Sin’s album, We Are Revealed, was chosen Best Album of 2011 by Sam Pfiefle of the Portland Phoenix. They wrote, “we HIGHLY recommend you seriously check out these bands and consider coming to this show. You’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t” and “we can’t recommend this show enough. Two of Maine’s finest acoustic acts.” Again, I listen to what OLS tells me—I’m a member and I think the folks there have impeccable taste. I was really excited by the few songs I was able to hear online, including this video of “Arrive.”
I don’t have much to say about the There Is No Sin’s “show” though, because there wasn’t much of one. I think OLS may have gotten my expectations up a bit too high. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked the music and I’ve listened to We Are Revealed basically on repeat since that night, but There Is No Sin is essentially front man/guitarist/songwriter/singer Troy Keiper, and he said very, very little all night. He did say that they’d play the new CD straight through, and they did. He had a pianist/bassist, drummer, and guitarist accompany him. A music video for “Practice Crawling,” which Troy said he really loved and said just a few words about, played on repeat for the entire night. I thought the video was hilarious at first—a guy in a monkey suit going through the daily grind at the office, but when I realized that the video was going to loop all night, I was sad to have the distraction. I wanted to be able to better focus on the lyrics—because that’s where Troy really excels.
“El Cid,” We Are Revealed’s second song, is upbeat even with the lyrics, “And I wanted to kiss you/I wanted to tell you/I could fix you/But I’d have been lying to myself” and “you’d tell me to listen/I weathered the talk/But I was tired of the script.” “Untitled” is my favorite song on the new album. It belongs on a movie soundtrack. It has a haunting electric guitar riff and gentle acoustic guitar in the front. It goes, “Were you sober?/It’s me/When I ask you to listen/Self help revival/Is a mirror in the hall/Your head tilted sideways/Asleep on the phone/Answer one thing/And I’ll leave you alone” and later, “At the gates of that prison/Did you give it a chance/In the back of your mind/Was it part of your plan?/Were you wanting to find me/Half hoping you’d lose/Half hoping I’d save you/From the past that you choose/You’re like a child/Whose father never comes.” These songs are so dark and intense—I’d love to know what inspired any of them. Maybe if I caught There Is No Sin on another night I’d find out? I am not so sure. I think Troy may just let the music speak for itself.
“Answers” includes the fascinating lyric, “I’m losing faith in what I say/You sit staring in a car park/Expecting me to follow/I’ve learned to walk the other way/And out of all my answers/The ones that I’ve recanted/I regret most what I couldn’t say.” “Misled” reminds me a lot of Maine singer-songwriter Christian Cuff (who I really like and you should check out). “Inhale” is a striking song—very stripped down. “I was the boy who dreamed I could make it/I was the boy who tried to stop leaving/These lights aren’t helping/And I’m too lost now/I wanted my words to save you somehow.” It goes on, “I was the boy who wanted to save you/I was the boy you thought was asleep/I know the lines that you wanted to save you/I know the things that you wanted to keep.”
There Is No Sin ended the night with two songs from their first CD (I know because Troy said those just those few words to us before playing them) that were relatively upbeat. I left the show is sort of a daze—the lyrics are very heavy and I would have loved to have learned more about any of the songs, the recording process of the new album, or anything biographical about the band itself. Instead, I left with a head full of melancholy songs spinning in my head, with essentially nothing to go on to help me process them.
I agree with Sam Pfeifle’s assessment that “there is an easy world-worn quality to the record.” I love We Are Revealed and I’ve listened to it dozens of times since that night. I’d say that if you have to make the choice between seeing these bands live and buying their albums, though—go for the albums. You will definitely get your money’s worth there.