Monday, April 30, 2012
Slates, Hallowell, Maine
*Sorry for the delay on recapping this show that I saw two weeks ago. I was already pretty behind on blogging at that point because I went to Eastern Europe with 13 amazing seniors from Mt. Ararat during April vacation and came home to jet lag and then my birthday (which I was able to eke ten solid days of celebration out of). I threw a prom for 300 seniors two nights ago because I’m the senior class advisor this year, and I thought I’d catch up on blogging to wind down from my busy (and hugely successful) prom weekend.*
I’m basically always up for going to a show alone, especially at small venues. I generally like chatting with people sitting near me at places like One Longfellow Square or Frontier. I’ve seen lots of Maine Music posts on Facebook in the last few months about anna & the diggs. I liked the songs they’d posted, and I loved Anna’s voice. When I saw that they were doing a Monday night show at Slates in Hallowell (a mere five miles from my house), I was in.
Their Facebook page gives a little background about anna & the diggs—“comprised of members from the alt-country/americana troupe known as Gypsy Tailwind, is a Portland-based super group that is a perfect blend of deeply expressive and soulful rock, rhythm & blues. . . The band consists of Maxwell Cantlin (guitar/vocals), Colin Winsor (bass guitar), Chris Dow (drums), Benjamin Trout (mandolin) and Anna Lombard (lead vocals/guitar).”
I saw Gypsy Tailwind open for Guster a couple of years ago, but Anna had left the group by then and Amanda Gervasi was the lead vocalist. I think there’s probably a bit of a back story here, and not only because Dispatch magazine recently gave anna & the diggs a pretty negative album review. I suspect there’s a bit of a music “scene” in Portland with its own drama, and I don’t care to get involved. I’m not interested in judging music based on personality or history. What I heard two Monday nights ago was nothing short of impressive.
I grabbed a seat at Slates around 8pm. There was a modest crowd for a Monday night show. Anna & the diggs’ sound is very much R&B/soul. There was a lot of head bobbing in the room as the small, but appreciative audience listened intently. I was completely caught off guard by how powerful Anna’s voice is. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because I’d heard a few of their tracks, but her breathy, clear voice is truly phenomenal. I see a show a week and have seen Adele, Brandi Carlile, and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars in the last year, and Anna’s voice is right up there with those powerhouses. I am not at all surprised that she’s nominated for Portland’s Best Female Vocalist in the Portland Phoenix’s “Best of 2012.” I will be surprised, though, if she doesn’t win.
I thought the songs were simple, but catchy. The power in the songs is definitely in Anna’s voice for me. Since they’re in the process of releasing their first EP, “River Girl,” I think they did a good job introducing us to their songs. They opened with “How Will I Know” and “I’m Waiting For You.” They “grooved it up” for us with “Here We Are” which transitioned right into “I Will Be Here.” They did a brand new song that they recorded at Slates, “We Were So Much Younger Then,” that Anna said was about being with someone for a long time and remembering when the love was new. It has the lyric “You know I’d give anything if we could meet back there.” It came off as bittersweet, but Anna assured us it was meant to be a “feel good song.”
Anna profusely complimented the band, and they sounded great. It’s clear they’ve been together a long time. They read each other well and had great interplay. They revamped one of Anna’s songs, “Nothing Of Us Left,” from her solo album. It seemed like a conversation between her and the guys. I got a great vibe from them, and they laughed a lot and seemed to really enjoy playing with each other. When they finished the song, Anna chuckled and let us know that they’d learned it in the parking lot before the show.
Anna said she loves Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi, and she and the guys did a great cover of Tedeschi Trucks Band’s “Midnight in Harlem.” I loved “All For You”—it was a decidedly pretty song (and more folky than jazzy, so more my thing) and Max’s voice sounded great during a refrain of “all for you.” It had a great line—“Your heart is my shield/Don’t leave me now.”
They joked that our show was a “T-Shirt Release Party” because they’d picked up new t-shirts just before the show. Their EP, “River Girl,” is out now (or very soon) at Bull Moose, and they are having an EP release show Saturday, June 2 at The Big Easy. They played “Lord Save the Day,” and I took note during that song how great they sounded that night. Seeing this group in a listening room is the way to go if, like me, you’re interested in lyrics. I could hear every word, and I loved getting to really appreciate anna & the diggs’ music for the first time in such an intimate setting.
Anna said she’d streamed Bonnie Raitt’s newest album, Slipstream, on NPR Music and wrote another brand new song—a Bonnie Raitt-inspired song that I loved called something like “Put It All On The Line.” They followed with a cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” They did “To Feel Alive” and rocked out on “Taste,” which reminded me (quite happily) of Grace Potter. Anna said she’d initially thought it was weird that no one was ignoring them because they’re used to playing at loud bars. We were also a particularly attentive crowd (and I’m always happy to be part of one). They wrapped up with “River Girl,” and I loved Max’s great guitar part. You can check out anna & the diggs’ songs “Are You Okay?,” “To Feel Alive,” and “River Girl” on their website.
The appreciative crowd and I asked for an encore, and anna & the diggs obliged with an awesome, funky version of “Mercedes Benz.” The rowdy front table across the room from me even helped out the band with a spoon introduction. It was a fabulous night of great music, incredible vocals, camaraderie, and I even got home at 10pm on a school night for a change. If you’re able to see anna & the diggs live, do. They put on a great show.