Tag Archives: Berklee College of Music

Tall Heights with Upper Structure

Tall Heights with Upper Structure

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Portland House of Music and Events, Portland, Maine

I saw Tall Heights play for the first time with Tricky Britches and The Ghost of Paul Revere back in 2013 at One Longfellow Square. I saw them again in 2014 and 2015, but not again until last week. When I saw they were doing a seated show with Berklee College of Music a cappella group Upper Structure, I bought my ticket and made plans to get to Portland House of Music and Events on a chilly Sunday night. I love Tall Heights powerful collaboration on “Spirit Cold” with Upper Structure and am a sucker for a cappella, too.

The show was very mellow, and Upper Structure didn’t do an opening set, so it was an early night, as well. Paul Wright (cello) and Tim Harrington (guitar) took the stage with their drummer, Paul Dumas, and six-member Upper Structure. Tim talked about his 8-month-old son and the conflicting feelings of being scared about parenting and the love he has for his son when introducing “Under Your Skin.”

Tim also told us that Jack from Upper Structure emailed them when “Two Blue Eyes” wasn’t on the set list for the short run of shows they were doing together to say that he was out if it they didn’t add it to the list. They joked that they didn’t feel like making an arrangement for six singers for the song, so “here he is.” Jack popped on stage without the rest of Upper Structure and sang a third part with just Tim and Paul.

Tim also introduced “Roanoke”–the last song on their latest album. He said “it’s an art piece for the artist, but it’s not the kind of song my parents would like. So if you don’t like it, I don’t care. The next four minutes are actually for us.” Paul didn’t say if his parents liked the song, but when he mentioned they were in the crowd, a couple sitting near me beamed with pride, which was very sweet since they’d told us this was their last show of the decade and I love that Paul’s parents were there for it. 

As always, even a seated show for a folk duo had at least one major concert etiquette issue. A woman sitting in the very front row on the upper level adjacent to the stage (and directly between me and the stage) was whispering loudly into her girlfriend’s ear throughout the entire night. It was so distracting and rude and seems to be the norm for folks at just about every show I end up at, always.

Towards the end of their set, Tall Heights told us that their collaboration with Upper Structure was very fulfilling, because are great singers and great people, too. They introduced “Keeps Me Light” as a reflection on what is happening in the world and said “there’s something very defiant about hope.” I think that’s a good song to end this decade with, actually. I’d had a couple more shows on my potential list, but it turns out that this was also my last show of the decade. I was so glad to catch up with Nikhil and Sam from SnugHouse and the incomparable Kevin Oates after the show, too. It was the perfect icing on the cake of this last show of the decade. See you in 2020!




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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.



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