Sunday, April 24, 2016
One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine
I sold my house! I moved ten years of my possessions to my new place, which is half the size of my beloved old place! I also threw a senior prom for almost 250, senior awards night, graduation for almost 180, and went on the Project Graduation trip with my seniors. Now I’m feeling settled in my new place and am SO READY to get back to more live music in my life. I don’t know about you, but times are heavy and music helps me through. I offer you “Rise Up” from Andra Day at Austin City Limits, just in case you need a boost right this minute.
I have pondered what to write about the incredible Penny and Sparrow show I saw back in late April at One Longfellow Square for a long while. It was incredible and one of the BEST SHOWS I HAVE EVER SEEN. That’s a little hard to process, just like the show still is. I wish I could relive every moment. I am so glad my steadfast concert companion Colin joined me, because I needed backup. This show was intense. Overwhelming. Wonderful. It hit me so hard in the feels that I needed a tissue.
I’d been lucky to see Canada’s talented Rose Cousins back in March in my former sweet little town of Gardiner, Maine at Johnson Hall. She is hilarious and gritty and open live and is a true entertainer. Juxtaposed with her beautiful, depressing songs, it’s a lot to see her perform. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster between the sad songs and her sharp banter and storytelling. It prepared me really well for this night, though.
Rose Cousins took the stage and gushed about Austin’s Penny and Sparrow. She told us they’d met in January at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival and that “these men have more feelings than me.” And listening to them is like “wearing your favorite hoodie right out of the dryer.” She joked that it was nice to be touring with people who just play sad music “so I don’t have to explain myself.” Rose opened with a cover of Lori McKenna’s “Shake” (I haven’t seen Lori in ages, but her songs are so good) and “Go First,” which was featured in the finale of season 9 of Grey’s Anatomy (but not in the kind of scene Rose envisioned for her song).
We all sang along with Rose’s cover of “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and Rose told quippy stories in between these somber songs, including “Farmer’s Wife,” which she told us was inspired by her sister, who is (in fact) a farmer’s wife. Rose told us about her trip to Ireland last May to write and record a forthcoming album, which I am eager to hear. Rose wrapped her set with “Heart Be With Me Now,” “I Make Way For Love,” and “Tender is the Man,” all of which I assume/hope will be on her new album. She left the stage by telling us that there are “no tenderer men” than Andy and Kyle of Penny and Sparrow.
Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke took the stage and warmed the crowd immediately with light humor about our “summer” weather in Maine that had them both wearing double coats. Then, Kyle quietly strummed his guitar, Andy put his hands in his pockets and leaned toward the microphone, and “Gold” sprung from their mouths. It was one of those rare moments at a show when you start to get sad because you realize the night will end. I felt like that from the first note.
I was not the only one entranced by Penny and Sparrow. Their sparse, evocative songs—Andy’s straightforward voice and Kyle’s gentle strumming and harmonies—are stunning. Kyle read our group response beautifully and told us our “give a damn” meter was high and it was a huge compliment to them and thanked us for listening. I laughed out loud in between songs at Kyle’s jokes, and then teared up during the songs. It was a lot to take in. Kyle told us that he gets it’s “taxing” (that’s the word he used) to listen to their music and genuinely appreciated we were along for the ride. He said it’s good to “shake your emotional snow globe” from time to time so that you don’t harden and can process your feelings. No kidding.
Penny and Sparrow hit me in the feels with “Finery” and “Catalogue,” did a complete turnaround to sing a few lighthearted bars of “Hero” by Nickelback, and then got right back to it with Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces.” Seeing them live is a ride I would have lined up for again immediately after the show. I wish I could relive the magic of this night. I wish you were all there, too.
Kyle gave us a lengthy scenario about running into an ex at a dinner party to introduce “Bed Down.” He talked about a kind of love where you are intimately aware of the struggles but don’t leave—a love with “no escape hatch.” I’d seen NPR Music feature “Bed Down” as a “Song We Love” back in February, and that’s when I learned that my beloved John Paul White (formerly of The Civil Wars) produced their album. I got to see John Paul again a few weeks ago from the front row at Cafe 939 in Boston and he is so incredibly down to earth and talented. What a pairing for Penny and Sparrow’s third studio album.
Rose Cousins joined Andy and Kyle for “Duet.” Andy introduced the song by saying there just weren’t enough songs about married love, so they wrote one. He said it’s about being together for a long time and still being into each other. The lyrics show resolve “Because I’ve seen you/And I know you/And I’m not going anywhere.”
This was a perfect night of music and easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I wish I could do it again. Thank you, Rose, Andy, and Kyle for a cathartic night of music, storytelling, and laughter. I am in awe of all of you. You shook my emotional snow globe, and I feel better for it. Please come back to Maine again. Come together, too, if you can.