Tag Archives: Portland Maine music

Max Garcia Conover with Ben Cosgrove

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mayo Street Arts, Portland, Maine

Max Garcia Conover is a name that’s popped up on whatbreesees more than most. Max is a helluva guy—humble, talented, soft-spoken, introspective. If you haven’t seen Max live, it feels a lot like being serenaded in your own living room—intimate and warm. There’s not much more I can say about Max that I haven’t in countless posts about him and his live show, and this night was similarly wonderful but also somewhat bittersweet. Max, Sophie, and their dog Arlo are off in their RV on a three-month family tour of the US to promote their new album, ellery, and this was their sendoff. The gang was all assembled for a final hoorah before saying goodbye for a while to a couple of our favorite people.

The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

I got to Mayo Street Arts early after a great Friday afternoon happy hour with dear colleagues in Freeport just in time to snuggle Arlo and keep Sophie company in the RV while she got ready for the show. She introduced me to the now famous Ben Cosgrove, who not only arranged and produced ellery, but also played too many instruments on it to count. Max has been singing the praises of Ben for a long while now, so it was great to meet him and also to hear him play in person.

Mayo Street Arts filled in just as the show started, and the kind folks who work there had to fetch more and more seating from the back room to seat everyone, including a bunch of Max’s students from Breakwater School. Max opened the show by thanking us all for coming out and introducing Ben Cosgrove, who sat in for the entire show and wowed the crowd with his instrumental prowess. They opened with “Teem,” and Max told us that Ben really made that song happen—a difficult, instrumental piece that opens Max’s 2013 album, Burrow. Ben liked “Teem” and so learned it just by listening to it on his drive to Maine and then played it from memory at a show he and Max played together in Portland. Take a listen. You’ll start to understand how truly gifted Ben is.

Ben Cosgrove and Max Garcia Conover

Ben Cosgrove and Max Garcia Conover

Max is from Ellery, New York, and he told us that the album is about the idea of home and trying to belong somewhere. He called his new wife (!) Sophie Nelson onstage to sing “Amapolas, Part One” together. Max said this song (which means ‘poppies’ in Spanish) is meant to continue on in future albums. Sophie’s airy vocals are a nice juxtaposition to Max’s grittier sound. Ben accompanied them not only on piano but also on the flugelhorn at the same time.

Sophie Nelson joins Ben and Max

Sophie Nelson joins Ben and Max

Ben played a couple of songs solo. He said that his instrumental music is inspired by landscape and played two impressive piano pieces—“Montreal Song” and “Abilene.” I just drove cross country last month, and so I appreciated Ben’s introductory words about how disorienting it is to drive through Kansas. Max joined Ben onstage and read lyrics for one more of Ben’s songs—“The Contoured Shape of the Ground”—which I think Ben said he’d never played live before. They played “The Songs” from ellery before the break, which is a song about writing songs. I particularly like the driving tempo in the song and the lyric “they don’t want truth/just tell better lies.”

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Max called us back together after intermission and played “I Won’t Mess You Up”—a song he said is about getting married. He told us that growing up in Ellery he didn’t really know what a singer songwriter was, except he read about a guy who toured New York in a canoe with his ukulele. And then he pointed to Chris, the very sweet guy I’d been sitting with, and welcomed him to the stage! Chris Bell didn’t have his ukulele with him, but played a couple of bold, looping songs with his electric cello and a serious array of foot pedals instead.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

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Max told a story about driving home to upstate New York with Sophie and Arlo when their car died with an hour to go in the middle of the night. Sophie fell asleep in the tow truck and soon, so did the driver. Max, feeling a need to protect his new wife, had to break out of his shell to engage the driver in conversation to keep him awake. He didn’t know where to start, so he just asked him about the gigantic crack down the middle of the windshield. It worked. Max invited Sammie Francis-Taylor to the stage to play shaker on “Say That You Know Me,” which is partially about having to connect with people even when you don’t know how or even really want to.

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I was really excited when Max started to introduce “Wildfires Outside Laramie, WY.” It’s one of those songs that cuts right to the heart of the matter and is one of my favorites of all of Max’s songs. He said it’s about when you can’t find common ground. He also told us that he just booked a gig in Laramie, and I’ll be interested to hear how playing that song there goes. It’s a heavy one.

Max, Sophie, and Ben left the stage and said goodnight, but we weren’t ready for the night to end. They came back and played another favorite, the very lovely “You’re the Farthest I Go” and went right into “Evelyn O.” to end their encore. I loved watching Sophie and Max looking at each other with sideways glances and knowing smiles during the songs they sang together. It is really sweet, how those two are together. It was a real treat to be there for this sendoff show. We didn’t get in our traditional Mayo Street sing along! I’ve gotten used to belting out the chorus on “The Start of Fables,” but Max wanted to be sure he built in some time for us all to hang out after the show since they’re off on tour for so long. Miss you guys already. Thanks for a great night!

xo,

bree

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The Lighthouse and the Whaler and Matt Pond

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I’m back from a relaxing week in sunny Panama! Here’s what I saw:

Santa Clara, Panama

Santa Clara, Panama

Back to business. I’d gotten four hours of sleep the night before because I went to see Mumford & Sons in Boston, but I was absolutely determined not to miss Cleveland’s The Lighthouse and the Whaler. My friend Shea introduced them to over a year ago, and we’re definitely ahead of the game on this group. They’ll be famous eventually, so *you can look them up now and be “in the know,” or you can wait until everyone else knows about them, too.

Bartlett and I met up with our friends Erika and Dave at El Rayo for dinner. Have you had their pineapple with sea salt and chili powder? So good. We made our way over to Port City Music Hall just in time to take our second row center spots as TLATW took the stage. I’d already decided that even though Jukebox the Ghost was headlining and I like them, I just wasn’t up for staying out again that late two nights in a row on school nights and was going to go home after the second act, Matt Pond.

The Lighthouse and the Whaler stole the night anyhow. The multi instrumentalists traded instruments seamlessly and danced gracefully about the stage (note the blurry photos) as they played lovely pop songs. They reminded me a lot of Milo Greene, who I first saw and fell in love with in 2011, and who are finally now playing on the radio. (See above*). The Lighthouse and the Whaler plays pretty, ethereal music that was relatively upbeat in person. I have listened to their self-titled album a lot of times and really like it. I love their love song, “Venice,” and was glad to hear it live. Bartlett and I talked to Mark and Steve from the band later and they were so nice and appreciated our kind words. I’m always happy to see talented musicians who are humble and take the time to talk to their fans. Please, please, please check out this band. Here’s a link to their set on Seattle’s KEXP. You’ll be hearing more from them.

The Lighthouse and the Whaler

The Lighthouse and the Whaler

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Bartlett and I hung around for the long transition to Matt Pond’s set. I’d downloaded his EP, The Natural Lines, from NoiseTrade and like it a lot. I was expecting a guy and an acoustic guitar (much like Iron & Wine), but the set up indicated a full band show. The sound check took a long time and was kind of useless. I couldn’t hear Matt’s lyrics from the second row, and the music with a full band just didn’t do it for me. Besides that, Matt was awkward with the audience. He told us he’d gone to high school in New Hampshire, but had hurried out of that place. Maybe not the best way to win over an audience. He had a heckler in the crowd and gave the guy too much attention so it just continued. I think we were the first night of the tour, so maybe he was just nervous and working out the kinks. His new album, The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand, had come out the day before and he was off to play on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon a couple of nights later. I prefer his older, acoustic stuff. As always, I want readers to make up their own minds, so check out Matt Pond’s “Love To Get Used” and see what you think.

Matt Pond

Matt Pond

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Bartlett and I decided we weren’t into it most of the way through Matt’s set, so we took off for the night at 9:45 and I was home at 10:30 on a school night! Seeing just The Lighthouse and the Whaler’s full set was absolutely worth the drive and effort.

xo,

bree

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Jacob Augustine

Friday, January 13, 2012

St. Lawrence Arts Center, Portland, Maine

Jacob Augustine at St. Lawrence Arts Center

Last week was a hard merge, but I went to see Jacob Augustine anyway. Brave girl. I called for a much needed Girls Night and Sophie, Michelle, and Rachel responded heartily. We met for dinner at Duckfat and minus Rachel, headed over on icy roads to St. Lawrence Arts Center on Munjoy Hill in Portland to see Jacob Augustine play two acoustic sets. I’d never seen a show there—it’s a converted church and has a beautiful wooden ceiling and riser seating. It feels old and intimate and lovely. I’ll be going back. Check out their website here.

Sophie and I saw Jacob open for Billy Libby in September at One Longfellow Square, and my best friend from high school, Meg, and I saw him at the Belfast Free Range Music Festival in April of 2011. I am a fan. We nestled into the center of the crowd and Jacob came out a little earlier than expected so he could finish up the show before Portland’s 10PM parking ban.

Jacob opened with “Waco,” a haunting song (I could say that about a lot of his songs, actually), and I love the juxtaposition that is Jacob Augustine. He is a burly guy with tattoos, a huge beard, and a shaved head who belts out in this falsetto voice that catches listeners off guard. One of the things I like about Jacob’s simple, yet also quite complex songs are the wailing “oo”s and “la”s—they make his songs complete and are as interesting and intricate as lyrics. You can read more about Jacob Augustine in this Maine Magazine article. Maine Magazine is one of my very favorites and they were one of the sponsors of the evening.

Jacob plays classical guitar—his simple strumming and chord progressions are a good backdrop for his powerful, heavy lyrics. His songs would make a beautiful film soundtrack. I’d also love to hear him harmonize with a female voice. I think it would be amazing.

Jacob played a beautiful rendition of “Methadone.” It’s a love song—it starts out “And without your love, I shake, shake, shake/I need you in my blood/And I love you every day/Yeah, I wake up/You’re always there to save me.” For about the first thirty seconds, I forgot that it’s really a love song FOR methadone. Being from northern Maine, Jacob addresses the turmoil and chaos drugs continue to cause in our beloved state. It certainly sounds like he knows what he’s singing about.

Jacob called himself a “quiet man onstage” and I agree, but I liked hearing the background behind one of the songs, “Catalina.” He talked about an accident in a field in high school where a friend was run over and he literally lifted the car up off of her so she could be extracted. She was in a full body cast and had a long recovery. Later, her mother overdosed, and a week after that, so did she. I love knowing what songs are about, and I had this brief moment where I thought it would be great to hear a Jacob Augustine storytelling session, but I quickly changed my mind. Some (most?) of his songs are heavy and about very serious, troubling, difficult things and I’m not sure how many of the back stories I could handle hearing. I imagine songwriting is one of the ways he processes those difficult times in his life. Music is good therapy for all of us.

“Coyote,” from his Frontier album, is one of my very favorites and I was happy to hear it. “Asthma,” also from Frontier (I think that’s my favorite of his albums), was stunning—his patient refrain of “it was so good to see your smiling faces” was intense and the somehow already silent room got quieter. By the end of the evening, I was sufficiently lulled and ready for bed (Friday nights are SO not the right night for this teacher to be out on the town!). Jacob closed with another of my favorites, “Peace Comes.” If you can carve out six minutes in your day, I’d really recommend listening to this beautiful, collaborative version of “Peace Comes.” The message that “peace comes—I promise, I promise/Hold on” was the right note to end the night on.

There is something primal and urgent yet so gentle and simple about Jacob’s songs, and about the singer himself, as well. I am caught in the juxtaposition and will happily linger there until I see him again.

Jacob’s albums are available at his bandcamp site. You can name your own price to download his music. I hope you’ll check him out!

xo,

bree

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