Tag Archives: NPR Tiny Desk Concert

Penny & Sparrow with Lowland Hum

Saturday, April 29, 2017

3S Artspace, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

This is a long post, so let me summarize here. Penny & Sparrow are a rare find. Their music is challenging and cathartic. Seeing them live is intense and beautiful. Please, please put them on your radar and see them live. You will thank me.

I saw Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke–Penny & Sparrow–for the first time a year ago at One Longfellow Square in Portland. The incomparable Rose Cousins opened, and it was easily one of the BEST SHOWS I’VE EVER SEEN. I remember thinking early on that night about how sad I was because the show would end. That feeling doesn’t happen very often.

My steadfast concert friend Colin joined me for that show a year ago, and he was eager to join me for this show at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, as well. I held baby goats at Sunflower Farm in Cumberland earlier that afternoon (so this was an excellent day!) and picked Colin up in Portland on the way to the show. We grabbed dinner at The Green Elephant in Portsmouth (did you know they have a location there?) and enjoyed the beautiful art show in the gallery at 3S Artspace before the show.

You can also pet these adorable baby goats at Sunflower Farm!

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Art by Kenley Darling at 3S Artspace

Lowland Hum are husband and wife duo Daniel and Lauren Goans. They were engaging and won me over. The room was silent as they performed their set, and Daniel and Lauren were obviously grateful. They thanked us many times for being such attentive listeners and for spending our evening giving them the gift of having an audience. I liked their vibe. I also particularly liked “Pocket Knife” and “How Long.” Check out their 2014 NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

Lowland Hum are Lauren and Daniel Goans

Someone nudged me after Lowland Hum left the stage. My concert buddy Bob, who I met at an Iron & Wine show in 2011, arrived from western Massachusetts in time for Penny & Sparrow, who I’ve been raving about to him for a solid year. I was excited because it was the first time Bob, Colin, and I were all at a show together. They compared their accounts on setlist.fm and chatted about favorite bands and past shows. It was nice to merge my concert worlds and introduce Bob to Penny & Sparrow. He texted me a picture after the show of all of the Penny & Sparrow albums he bought after Colin and I left for Maine.

Penny & Sparrow took the stage to a full room, but the audience was silent and soaked in every word. They are mesmerizing. They opened with “Gold,” which is one of my favorites from their 2016 release, Let a Lover Drown You, which is very depressing and right up my alley. They mixed in a little “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” from Whitney Houston, which we got to sing along to. Andy made up an elaborate story about being a nude model for Kyle in a pinch, which was totally false, but made us laugh heartily. Their songs are SAD, but their banter between songs is HILARIOUS. Seeing P & S live is a rollercoaster. I shed some tears that night–both during their sad songs and also because I laughed to tears in between songs. It’s a lot, and it’s wonderful.

Penny & Sparrow are Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke

Something that was different at this show is that Penny & Sparrow clearly had fans in the audience who traveled to see them and who know the words to their songs. I’m glad for them. It’s incredibly well deserved.

Andy explained the “deep end” of “Catalogue”–a song about old love and what we wish we knew about ourselves and our worth when we were young. Kyle told us that the “shallow end” of “Catalogue” is that it’s about catalogues like L.L.Bean and SkyMall (RIP) and that we could choose our own adventure about how deep into the song we wanted to get. They sang a bit of “O Holy Night” from their 2016 Christmas Songs album, which might be enough for me to start liking Christmas music.

One of the last songs of the night was “Duet,” and Andy introduced the song by saying that it’s about how love grows and how being together is about being committed to each other even though you know the worst there is to know about each other, but that you’re still not going anywhere. He invited Lauren from Lowland Hum up to sing it with them and then dedicated it to his wife (over 1,100 miles away, according to Google maps, he said) and to her husband, who she joked was “maybe 19 steps away.” He said, “the choosing of someone–love without an escape hatch–is what we want.”

Seeing Penny & Sparrow live is intense–the music is deep in subject matter, but the banter is more like a comedy show. There are highs and lows. What I appreciate about Andy and Kyle is their commitment to being authentically themselves and offering their truth so humbly and beautifully to a room full of strangers. It’s really a gift to be in their presence, and I can’t wait to see them live again next time they’re in our neck of the woods.

xo,

bree

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Glen Hansard with Joe Purdy

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Orpheum Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts

Glen Hansard is one of my favorite musicians, and I continue to be shocked that he’s not a household name. He should be. He is a phenomenal storyteller who gives 110% on stage. A seasoned busker, he knows how to connect with an audience and be heard. For those of you who don’t know Glen Hansard, let me introduce you. He’s been the lead singer of Irish rock band The Frames for over 25 years. He was in the 1990 film, The Commitments. He starred in and wrote the music for the acclaimed 2007 film Once. Glen and Markéta Irglová won the Oscar for Best Song with “Falling Slowly” (a song I suspect you’ve probably heard, but didn’t know who wrote it). Once The Musical is now on Broadway, and it’s a lovely adaptation of the film.

Here’s Glen’s 2012 NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Here’s Glen at NPR All Song Considered’s Sweet Sixteen party in 2016. Those should hook you.

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There was no question that I’d drive to Boston on a school night to see Glen live at The Orpheum. I met my steadfast concert friend Bob for dinner and we grabbed our great center orchestra seats in time to catch the last few songs of Joe Purdy’s opening set. Arkansas native folk singer-songwriter Joe Purdy was charming and honest. He told us he’d written his last album with a pretty sharp tongue but went home to be with his family for Christmas before he recorded it. He said his wonderful, Saint-like mother told him that if he wanted to make a real impact on people’s lives that he needed to take the anger out of his message. So he went back to California and rewrote the whole record, which was the right thing to do, even if “it was a huge pain in the ass.” Check out “My Country.” I wish we hadn’t missed so much of Joe’s set, and I hope I get the chance to see him again soon.

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Joe Purdy

Glen and his band took the stage and wowed from start to finish. They must have played close to 25 songs, which was such a gift. I was especially happy to hear Glen tell so many stories that inspired his songs. It’s the best part about getting to see your favorites live–when they tell you about their lives and the characters and moments that inspired them. It’s a special thing. Glen opened the show with “You Will Become,” which set exactly the perfect tone. He told us that his next song, “Just to Be the One,” was really about his hard-earned love for his dog. I was thrilled to hear “When Your Mind’s Made Up” from Once early in the set list. Bob leaned over to say how glad he was to hear “Bird of Sorrow,” which is also a favorite of mine. Glen told a long story about Renata–a gritty, honest waitress at a place in NYC who has her own fan club. The band closed their set with “Falling Slowly,” which Glen dedicated to Markéta.

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Glen Hansard

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Glen came back to the stage greeted by thunderous applause. He treated us to “Love Don’t Keep Me Waiting” solo, and invited the band back to join him for another five songs. I was over the moon to hear “Say It to Me Now,” which was the opening song of Once, and “This Gift,” which was beautifully featured in the movie The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Jake Clemons from the E Street Band joined Glen and the band on stage for the last three songs of the night, which included a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Drive All Night.” “Her Mercy” was lovely, and then all of the band and crew, Joe Purdy, and Jake Clemons joined Glen for a spectacular version of  “The Auld Triangle,” which I’m so glad someone recorded so I can enjoy it again and again. It was a magical evening, and this was the perfect ending. Please check out Glen Hansard if you haven’t. You can carpool to Boston with me next time he’s in town.

xo,

bree

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“The Auld Triangle”

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Basia Bulat with Twin Limb

Sunday, April 3, 2016

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

I’ve taken a very necessary break from blogging over the last few weeks. I’m in charge of all of the senior class events at my school and I’m selling my house and moving. It’s a crazy time in my life. I can’t remember a time I’ve been so busy!

I have fond memories of seeing Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat live early last month at One Longfellow Square. Basia came across my radar back in January of 2011, when I saw her Tiny Desk Concert on NPR. I’d seen Twin Limb open for Houndmouth back in September at Port City Music Hall, and I’d liked them and was looking forward to seeing them again, as well. Colin and I had just seen Darlingside a couple of nights earlier and he had another show to go to, so I went solo.

I was surprised and a bit disappointed to find that the bulk of the seats at One Longfellow were stacked and pushed to the sides when I arrived. I’ve seen it once before, for a bluegrass show where the band really thought people would want to dance. We didn’t. People helped themselves to the stacks of chairs and set up rows before that show even started. One Longfellow Square is a listening room with a mature audience (I am often one of the youngest people in the audience when I see shows there) and we’ve come to expect having seats in rows so we can sit close and enjoy the show comfortably. I asked one of the staff members and was told one of the bands (she didn’t know which) had asked that the chairs be cleared to create a dance floor. I’ve heard lots of Twin Limb and Basia Bulat music and, trust me, it’s not dance music. I was annoyed. What ended up happening is that people sat really far away from the stage in the few seats that were set up. It ruined the intimacy we’ve come to count on at OLS shows and I’d ask the well meaning folks there to really discourage the vast majority of bands from using this seating arrangement in the future. I watched Twin Limb’s set from one of the few seats in the corner of the room and couldn’t see any of their facial expressions (have I mentioned that I’m pretty significantly visually impaired?) and their set fell totally flat for me because of it even though I’d really enjoyed them six or so months earlier. I was grumpy. I considered going home.

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My crappy view of Twin Limb during their opening set. Please don’t set up the room this way, OLS!

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IMG_3440Basia Bulat came out to watch Twin Limb’s set, and she sat on the floor, front and center. Again, my belief is that people shouldn’t come to a show and have to sit on the floor to be respectful to those seated in the back and on the sides. That type of seating situation is a mess, because anyone who wants to be up front has to either stand in front of seated people and be a jerk or sit on the floor. It was really endearing that Basia was so cool and enjoyed the set from the floor. People in the crowd were definitely her fans—a nice couple initially sitting behind me had driven nine hours from Halifax to be at the show. They were giddy when she plopped down on the floor and went to join her. So, Basia was the one who broke the ice and got people closer to the stage. This was the turning point of the night and things started moving in a better direction.

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Basia Bulat is front and center enjoying Twin Limb’s set

I’d been sitting with Jen Dean, a Westbrook photographer whose friend was sick and had decided to also come to the show solo. Even when I go to a show alone, it never lasts long. She was a dear. Basia and her band took the stage. I’d heard her music and although I didn’t expect this, she made it perfectly swayable. She really worked the stage with high energy dancing and switching instruments (she plays guitar, autoharp, dulcimer, piano, ukulele, and charango—which is a South American ukulele-like instrument I had to Google) and interacting sweetly with the crowd. She is a natural born entertainer, and even though I would have preferred a seated show (I’m done with the rant now), she jumped off stage and danced with the swaying crowd and even gave Jen a turn on the dance floor. My grumpiness about the seats dissipated and I found myself swaying along.

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Basia took to the floor to dance with us

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I don’t know a single one of Basia’s song titles, but I was glad I got to see her live in such a tiny venue. I get the feeling that she’s going places, not just because so many folks in the audience knew every word of every one of her songs, but also because she dazzled on stage and made it a feel-good night. Her most recent album, Good Advice, was released earlier this year (check out her song “Fool”), and her tour schedule is packed. Definitely get out to see Basia Bulat live if she’s in your corner of the world.

xo,

bree

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Twin Limb joined Basia and her band for a song

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Sturgill Simpson

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Brighton Music Hall, Boston, MA

*My dear friend and comrade-in-music, the uber-talented Ken Templeton, is obsessed with Sturgill Simpson. He’s posted about Sturgill on Facebook so many times that I finally sat down and listened to the Kentucky native’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert myself to see what the buzz is about. Ken recently moved to Massachusetts and got the chance to see Sturgill live a couple of weeks back. Here’s his guest post. Thanks, Ken!*

Laur Joamets and Sturgill Simpson at Brighton Music Hall. Photo courtesy of Ken Templeton.

Laur Joamets and Sturgill Simpson at Brighton Music Hall. Photo courtesy of Ken Templeton.

Sturgill Simpson looked around at the packed room at Brighton Music Hall last week, seemingly sizing us up. “What’s up, Boston,” he said, then launched into Livin’ The Dream,” with the crowd more shouting-along than singing. The date at BMH was rescheduled from July 12, as he was tapped to open for Zac Brown on a string of dates in July and August.

Sturgill has the perfect balance of humility (when he’s talking) and cockiness (when he’s singing). He plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, knowing that he and his band are really good; also knowing that they have played a lot of empty rooms over the years, leading him to quit music for a while. Miles Miller plays drums and Kevin Black plays bass–the only reason you might overlook their understated, spot-on rhythm is that every solo Laur Joamets takes on lead guitar is jaw-slackening and Simpson’s vocals are so forceful.

After a couple of songs, someone shouted Long White Line!” Without missing a beat, Sturgill just said, “We’ll get there,” in a settle-down tone. Then, he elaborated, “I don’t write set lists,” he said, “and we play what we feel like playing. But we’ll play ‘em all, so you don’t have to worry about it.” He was as good as his word. He played all but one song from his debut High Top Mountain, most of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and a few covers, because, as he said, “Even though most people haven’t heard ‘em, I get tired of playing my shit.” While introducing Turtles All The Way Down,” a song with references to hallucinogenic drugs that has been picked apart by journalists (“And none of ‘em have got it right”), Sturgill pointed out Graham Uhelski in the audience, who directed the song’s music video, thanking him for his support and artistry. After the song, he walked to the front of the stage, and Uhelski came forward–they shook hands and exchanged a few words, with clear mutual respect and affection.

This was probably the last chance to see him in a venue where you talk directly to the performer. When Sturgill reflected that it’s been a “crazy couple of months,” since Metamodern broke through and garnered him national attention, a fan said “Congratulations, man,” and Sturgill looked right at him, thanking him. “You made it!” someone else said. He smiled a little and said, “We’ve crawled our way to the beginning. That’s still a van parked out back.” When he comes back through Boston, it will be at a bigger venue with a tour bus parked outside. But he’ll still play what he feels like and the crowd will be lucky to shout along.

 

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