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!