Tag Archives: Portland

Milo Greene with Hey Marseilles

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

Have you ever loved a band, listened to their album a hundred times, but then invited friends to come see them live with you and the band totally fell flat and you felt responsible? This was that.

I fell in love with LA’s Milo Greene when they opened for The Civil Wars at Berklee Performance Arts Center in November of 2011. I bought their three-song sampler for $5 and listened to it easily a hundred times waiting for their first full-length album. I saw them in Boston at Brighton Music Hall in October of 2012 (playing with Lucius), and again touring for their folky, harmonic self-titled album in March of 2013 at Empire in Portland. I re-read my post from 2012 at Brighton Music Hall where I wrote “their strength is in their live show.” Milo Greene didn’t bring it to Port City Music Hall that night.

Milo Greene at Brighton Music Hall. October 2012.

Milo Greene at Brighton Music Hall in Boston. October 2012.

Milo Greene at Empire in Portland, Maine. March 2013.

Milo Greene at Empire in Portland, Maine. March 2013.

I have always described Milo Greene to first-timers as an upbeat indie group without a lead singer. They pass instruments back and forth. Their harmonies are stunning and their songs catchy and relatable. Their new album, Control, is a different thing altogether. Released in early 2015, it is much more pop and percussive. It’s a pretty big departure, and not in a direction I was excited about, but I still thought their live show would impress. It didn’t.

The only wholly bright spot of the night was show opener Hey Marseilles from Seattle. They have a folky pop sound with great harmonies and a string section. Matt Bishop, their lead singer, was engaging and friendly. He joked that their band name is hard to say but easy to Google search. I wasn’t familiar with their music before the show, but I enjoyed the bulk of it (especially “Heart Beats”) and have listened more since the show. I’d definitely see them again.

Seattle's Hey Marseilles

Seattle’s Hey Marseilles

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Milo Greene took the stage and thanked us for waiting three years for them to come back to town. That might have been just about the only thing anyone in the band said for the majority of the show. They played in the near dark, song after song. No song introductions, no checking in with the audience. It felt like we might as well not have been there. Much later in their set, Robbie said that their new album is the real them (that was the gist, anyhow). Marlana piped up that she thought it might take a little convincing, but he clearly disagreed. I wondered how united the group is about their new musical direction.

LA's Milo Greene

LA’s Milo Greene

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This beautiful shot of Milo Greene is courtesy of Caroline Carrigan

This beautiful shot of Milo Greene is courtesy of Caroline Carrigan

Milo Greene sped through their Control-heavy set. On their website they’re quoted as saying that their “first album was a massive wall of harmonies.” It is a glorious sound, if you ask me, and the crowd’s reaction led me to think I’m not the only one who misses the old stuff. I was happy to hear a handful of their earlier songs like “1957,” “What’s The Matter,” and “Autumn Tree.” They covered Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home,” which I thought was fantastic. The band rushed through their songs and hurried off stage and I was surprised by how early I got home after a show on a school night. If they came back to town, I’d sadly pass, which is kind of heartbreaking.

xo,

bree

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Eric Hutchinson, Tristan Prettyman, and Nick Howard

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

This was the kind of grey and dreary Tuesday that felt like it should have been a Thursday already. I was so ready for Daylight Savings Time, and I think the dark weather sadly ended up clouding my show experience. I had a sluggish afternoon after school holding my dear friend’s two-month-old baby girl for a few hours before heading down to Portland to catch this show. I got to Sarah’s house just as Eric Hutchinson and Tristan Prettyman’s Studio Z interview on 98.9 WCLZ began and listened while I snuggled baby Isabelle. I’d seen Eric live back in 2012 on his “Almost Solo Tour” with accompanist Elliott Blaufuss, and he was a supreme entertainer—as much a stand up comedian as a singer-songwriter. I was happy to hear that he was just as engaging over the radio, joking that the way he and Tristan co-headlined this tour was by each playing their set simultaneously on opposite sides of a curtain and seeing who gets more attention from the crowd. Tristan and Eric talked about being good friends for over a decade and how excited they were to put the City & Sand Tour together (she’s from San Diego and he’s living in NYC). Tristan talked about going through a lot of transitions—being dropped by her label, firing her manager, becoming a one-woman operation, and getting married in August right before spending two weeks in the studio after her honeymoon recording her new EP, Back To Home. They sounded like they were already having fun together on the road (the tour just started the night before in Boston), and they played a fun cover of “All About That Bass” together that got me geared up for the show.

Isabelle is quite snuggly

Isabelle is quite snuggly

She's so snuggly that we fell asleep together for a little while before I took off for the show

She’s so snuggly that we fell asleep together for a little while before I took off for the show.

I arrived early to grab my press ticket and a front row spot. My friends Andrea and Cory were already at Port City Music Hall by the time I arrived, but sadly couldn’t stand up front with me because Cory was injured and needed to sit for the show. For whatever reason, being solo at this show made it less fun. I ended up in a pocket of obnoxious people—drunk people, loud talkers, adults waaaaay too old to be grinding on each other like that, and between that and the dreary weather, I think my positive show experience was over before it began. Most of those annoying people arrived only after Britain’s Nick Howard performed, so I did get an uninterrupted chance to enjoy at least part of the show. Nick was engaging—as far as an opening act goes, he did everything right. He chatted comfortably with the crowd, complimented the area (he joked about being able to see why so many presidents vacation in Maine), sang a few songs we knew (his cover song medley included “Wake Me Up” and “Save Tonight”), asked us to clap, whistle, and sing along, and didn’t play for too long. Well done, Nick. I especially liked his original songs “Can’t Break a Broken Heart” and “Falling for You.”

Nick Howard

Nick Howard

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I was impressed with the speedy set change (it being a school night and all), and Tristan Prettyman and her band took the stage in no time at all. I hadn’t seen her since 2011 at the Life is Good Festival in Canton, Massachusetts, and was glad to see her again. Her last album, Cedar + Gold, got a lot of play on long road trips in my car in 2012. It’s definitely a breakup album (this summer, my break up album was Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour) and was written about her broken engagement with Jason Mraz. Here’s Tristan performing a stripped-down version of “I Was Gonna Marry You” that she didn’t play at the show, since a lot has happened since then. Tristan told us she’d gotten married in August (her husband, Google Venture managing partner, Bill Maris, was in the crowd proudly taking photos). Her new EP, Back to Home, released the day before the show, is a much happier album, and Tristan told us she was playing these songs live for the first time on the City & Sand Tour with Eric. She joked about how all of her songs are about stupid men, and so she really didn’t have anything appropriate to play when she visited her friend’s sixth grade classroom, so she wrote a “namaste” song, “Open Up Your Eyes.” I was glad to hear “Say Anything,” “Madly,” and “My Oh My,” all songs that 98.9 WCLZ has played regularly for ages. Tristan surprised us with a fun cover of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” during her set, which had people happily singing along.

Tristan Prettyman

Tristan Prettyman

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The last time I saw Eric Hutchinson was a real treat. He told a ton of stories about his songs and interacted comfortably with the friendly crowd while playing stripped-down, acoustic songs—my ideal concert-going scenario. This show was different. Eric hopped up on stage with a full band and rocked from start to finish. He didn’t say a whole lot to the crowd, but he and his happy bandmates had great energy and put on a fun show. Eric has a lot of hits from his decade-plus-long career, and he played them all. The crowd was clearly excited to hear “Watching You Watch Him.” During “The Basement” he sampled a little Aretha, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Amy Winehouse. It was a big hit with the crowd and Eric and the band really went all out on it.

Eric Hutchinson

Eric Hutchinson

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Loved seeing this camaraderie

Loved seeing this camaraderie

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Look at the fun they're having!

Look at the fun they’re having!

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Eric called Tristan up on stage and they did one of her songs, “Love Love Love,” together. He told us that the first time he heard that song, he listened to it on repeat for an entire two hour drive. Eric tested out the security of the big speaker on the floor right next to me and then hopped up onto it to start singing “OK, It’s Alright with Me.” I physically had to move to get out of his way. That’s how close to a performer I want to be during a show! (It’s also why I didn’t move to a new spot when I probably should have to get away from the folks I was standing around. Lesson learned.)

Tristan and Eric on her "Love Love Love"

Tristan and Eric on her “Love Love Love”

Eric up on the speaker right next to me. This is the kind of stage proximity I look for!

Eric up on the speaker right next to me. This is the kind of stage proximity I look for!

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I appreciated the way that Eric gleefully interacted with his band on stage. He took the time to introduce all of them and to give them time to highlight their skills, which they especially did during “You Don’t Have to Believe Me.” The show is clearly not all about him to him, and that’s great to see. Eric talked about getting dropped from his label years ago and using the money to make his 2008 album, Sounds Like This. His newest album, Pure Fiction, came out in April of 2014. Eric sampled Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” during “A Little More,” one of his newer songs. I stayed through “Rock and Roll” and then decided to head home before the encore so I could be in bed before midnight on a school night. Eric’s so fun live. Next time I see him, I’ll try harder to bring my dancing shoes!

xo,

bree

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Darlingside and Jacob Augustine

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Empire, Portland, Maine

This was only my third Darlingside show? That doesn’t seem possible, because they hold a pretty big spot in my musical heart. I first saw them in September of 2012 at One Longfellow Square only because they invited me and I was completely flabbergasted. I declared it one of my top five shows of 2012—which means something since I saw 45 shows that year. They came to play OLS again last fall with the lovely and talented Caitlin Canty, who is a regular collaborator of theirs, and the effervescent Rusty Belle. I’ve mostly adjusted to teacher hours and the show didn’t start until after 9:30PM, so I was excited for the show, but afraid I’d fall asleep in the car on the drive home. I texted my concert buddy Colin, who promised me he’d meet me at the show, so I mustered up the energy for a late night and an hour and a half of driving to see them. Totally worth it. I love seeing shows with Colin because he appreciates music like I do, but also because he keeps track of set lists (which means I don’t have to). It’s kind of like seeing shows just for fun again!

Darlingside's set list--courtesy of Colin

Darlingside’s set list–courtesy of Colin

Darlingside took the stage about 9:45PM. As I glanced around the room, I saw most of The Ghost of Paul Revere, some guys from Tricky Britches, and Eric, who manages The Ballroom Thieves in the crowd. I feel like that turnout tells you this show was worth going to, eh?

Darlingside is a “string rock quartet.” Don, Dave, Auyon, and Harris went to Williams together, and their harmonies are flawless. As they played “God of Loss” and “My Love” to warm up, you could have heard a pin drop. In a bar. Late on a Saturday night. They’re impressive and they draw you in to listen. “My Love” is one of my favorites—a bit of self reflection about the effort one makes in a relationship—“My half-assed best was all I had for your love/my maybe-tomorrows for your heart-to-hearts/my punch-drunk house calls for your candles and wine/my brother, my banjo, my never-done-wrong/all you wanted was me by your side/I tend to get what I want/and do as I please/but you taught me I can’t always get away with everything I thought I could/and for that I thank you, my love.” Their cover of Smashing Pumpkin’s “1979” was energizing and a hit with the crowd.

From left to right, Darlingside is Don Mitchell,  David Senft, Auyon Mukharji, and Harris Paseltiner

From left to right, Darlingside is Don Mitchell,
David Senft, Auyon Mukharji, and Harris Paseltiner

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Dave promised to try very hard not to hit Auyon with his instruments.

Dave promised to try very hard not to hit Auyon with his instruments.

Darlingside’s harmonies on “The Woods” were particularly standout. I was glad to hear “The Catbird Seat.” It’s pretty, but sad—“By you I swore/By the light or the way you wore it/Now instead I swear I’m over it.” “Blow the House Down” was a crowd favorite. They ended their set with “Good Man,” and the crowd cheered loudly enough for an encore. I was really happy to hear “Sweet and Low” live. I also would have liked to hear “Terrible Things,” but alas. Check out the video, though. It’s excellent.

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Darlingside will join The Ghost of Paul Revere and The Ballroom Thieves (two more of my favorite bands) for Hollerfest 2 at The Strand Theatre in Rockland on Saturday, November 22. They’ll be joined by the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra. I will definitely be there!

Mike, of my former students who is all grown up now, works downstairs at Empire and joined us for a bit. Mike was impressed with Jacob Augustine’s beard, and I told him to get ready to be surprised by Jacob’s sweet falsetto voice. He was. I’d just seen Jacob a few weeks either at Ghostland Music Festival, but he hasn’t played out much and it was a treat to get to see him again so soon. I’d never seen Jacob Augustine with a full band, and the fullness of sound amplified the message of his songs beautifully. Jacob’s band for the night included Asher Platts on upright/bass, Peter McLaughlin on percussion, and my friend McKay Belk rocking the steel guitar. “Halfway to Harlem” was a favorite. They played the long versions of each song, and since I could see their set list from my front row spot, I knew I wouldn’t make it to the end of the night and sadly excused myself for the haul home. I listened to this version of “Peace Comes” in the car en route, though. Sad to miss the rest, Jacob, but so glad to see you twice in short time!

xo,

bree

Jacob Augustine

Jacob Augustine

Jacob with McKay Belk on steel guitar

Jacob with McKay Belk on steel guitar

Jacob with Peter McLaughlin on percussion

Jacob with Peter McLaughlin on percussion

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Asher Platts on upright bass

Asher Platts on upright bass

What's that called, Peter?

What’s that called, Peter?

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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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David Wax Museum

Friday, April 18, 2014

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I’d heard good things, but had never seen David Wax Museum and was also quite unfamiliar with their music. I’m so glad I got to remedy that situation and finally see them live—what a blast! I absolutely recommend you check them out when they’re in your town! I knew they’d won an online contest to play Newport Folk Festival in 2010 and were so impressive that they were invited back in 2011. They were even named one of the “25 Best Live Acts of 2011” by Paste Magazine. They were so much fun to see.

This was a perfect start to the beginning of my April vacation! I got to catch up with Nate over gelato at The Gelato Fiasco, had tea with Megan, and met Andrea at Empire in Portland for dinner before the show. We had a delicious meal (as always) and were entertained and confused by a very outgoing woman at the table adjacent to us who kept bothering women around her to sign for a picture (in American sign language) the hashtag her husband “invented” for himself—wait for it–#mattisadick. The production easily lasted twenty minutes and at least half of the restaurant was involved or at least watching with curiosity. The good news is that the hashtag fiasco was an icebreaker and Andrea and I met Vivian and Sheri (hi, ladies!!) at the table next to us who were pumped to be seeing David Wax Museum that night as well.

Empire's hot & sour soup

Empire’s hot & sour soup

Spinach dumplings

Spinach dumplings

Andrea and I made our way to Port City Music Hall and took our spot up front just as Boston’s Kingsley Flood was wrapping their set. We set our stuff down on the floor at the base of the stage as David Wax came by and dropped his earpiece (don’t worry—we helped him find it). The David Wax Museum is genuinely impressive live. They dance all over the place, smile constantly, have an obviously strong group dynamic, harmonize with ease, and play instruments beautifully and soulfully. I kept looking over at Andrea and smiling—totally caught off guard by how fun they were to be watching.

The David Wax Museum

The David Wax Museum

David Wax was all smiles

David Wax was all smiles

Suz Slezak with a donkey jawbone and Jordan Wax on accordion

Suz Slezak with a donkey jawbone and Jordan Wax on accordion

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David Wax and Suz Slezak form the core of The David Wax Museum (DWM). They met in 2007 (and are married with a five month old baby now) and make upbeat, harmonic, danceable music together. They call their music “Mexo-Americana,” which works just perfectly to explain what a leona (think ukulele), upright bass, percussion, fiddle, keys, accordion, and donkey jawbone combine to become. It’s so fun.

A fun Maine connection is that the last two of DWM’s albums (their most recent is Knock Knock Get Up) were made with Sam Kassirer at the Great North Sound Society in Parsonfield. If you saw Lake Street Dive play at The State Theatre, you got to see Sam playing keys with LSD on a couple of songs as he also produced their latest album. Sam was at the DWM show and the band was excited to see him and reminisce.

David said they hadn’t headlined a show in Portland in three years (there’s my excuse) and were glad to be back in town. I really liked “Beekeeper,” which is an older one of their songs that’s mellow and folky—just how I like my music. Jordan Wax (David’s cousin) played keys and accordion and led a whole-crowd dance along from the center of the floor (he taught us choreography, folks). Talk about a guy having a good time on (and off) stage. Greg Glassman on bass and Philip Mayer on drums (even a cajon drum at one point) rounded out the group on stage that night.

Jordan teaching us our dance part

Jordan teaching us our dance part

Jordan leads the audience in dance

Jordan leads the audience in dance

I was impressed by DWM’s songs in Spanish, but couldn’t keep up with them lyrically (boy, they sing fast when they get going!) as I tried to translate in my head. David told us that Suz toured until she was 37 weeks pregnant and that her dad is on tour with them and their little one to make it work for them to travel. They sang a song about parenthood called “Everything Changes.” I loved when they all gathered around a single mic and sang “Let Me Rest.” The whole band grabbed their instruments and walked to the center of the room to play an unplugged song for us. Talk about a band that knows how to work a crowd and make us feel like we’re part of something. Well done, DWM!

"Let Me Rest" around one mic

“Let Me Rest” around one mic

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Philip Mayer on cajon drum

Philip Mayer on cajon drum 

Unplugged in the crowd

Unplugged in the crowd

I loved the flamenco dance introduction on “Yes, Maria, Yes” and loved “Singing to Me,” a song they dedicated to Bart—a former road manager from Portland who was at the show and singing and dancing along all night long. They talked about how they wrote the song because Bart would say that Tift Merritt (who they’d opened for on tour) was “singing to me” and how much they loved the ability music has to cut right through and connect the artist to the audience. That perfectly sums up why I write whatbreesees!

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David thanked us and told us that one of their very first shows was up the street at One Longfellow Square six years ago. They asked us to sing along for their final song “Harder Before It Gets Easier.” We gleefully sang along and cheered for an encore. Suz and David came out to play “Lavender Street” as a duet (which was lovely and you can watch here). I loved the lyric “I need you like the grass needs the rain.” The rest of the band joined them for “Born With a Broken Heart,” which gave me the energy I needed to drive home late on a Friday night. What an awesome show. Thanks for coming, David Wax Museum! SO glad I didn’t miss out this time!

xo,

bree

Glad you enjoyed the show, too, DWM!

Glad you enjoyed the show, too, DWM!

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Lake Street Dive with Ages and Ages

Saturday, April 5, 2014

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

Here’s something I never thought would be true—I missed half of Lake Street Dive’s set because I had to get home to meet our babysitter. Really. Lake Street Dive’s kind publicist offered me a plus one ticket to the show, and my sweetie and I asked my awesome student Lauren to babysit his two kiddos—the first time we’ve gone out together on a Saturday night since we started dating. Lauren met up with us earlier in the day so we could introduce her to the boys, and from that moment on, Jeff’s oldest asked “when is Lauren coming” every twenty minutes for the rest of the day! Adorable! I nearly forgot that Lauren couldn’t drive past midnight (driving laws these days are so different than when I was in high school), so we had to leave at 11 to get home to her in time.

Here is a public declaration of thanks to the fabulous Tom Rota, outgoing Programming Director of my favorite intimate listening room anywhere—Portland’s One Longfellow Square. It was Tom who introduced me to Lake Street Dive back in 2011. I saw them at OLS in 2011 and 2012 play to pretty full houses—almost 200 seats in the house. Here’s my post from their October 2012 show. To see them play to a sold out crowd of nearly ten times that amount of people at State Theatre just over a year later was incredible. Lake Street Dive is getting the attention they truly deserve. It’s funny to see them called a “new” band since they’ve been together since 2009, but I’m happy people are catching on and am lucky to have gotten to know them early on.

Love Rachael's face in this one! Try getting a picture of Bridget who is constantly in motion! There's Mike Olson, too.

From my post in 2012–I love Rachael’s face in this one! Try getting a picture of Bridget who is constantly in motion! There’s Mike Olson, too.

I love this shot! I had to get up and walk to the back of the room to fit all of LSD into one frame.

I love this shot from 2012 at One Longfellow Square! I had to get up and walk to the back of the room to fit all of LSD into one frame.

Portland, Oregon’s Ages and Ages opened the show and reminded me of The Partridge Family. All six band members sang and played percussion at some point during their set. Their upbeat harmonic pop sound was full and energizing. When the tambourine came out, Up with People came to mind. Their hopeful songs like “I See More” promised “It’s all OK, I’ll be on your side.” Mike Calabrese from Lake Street Dive joined Ages and Ages on drums for their last song, “Divisionary,” and we were happily surprised when the rest of Lake Street Dive came out to join him, too.

Ages and Ages

Ages and Ages

Ages and Ages joined by Lake Street Dive

Ages and Ages joined by Lake Street Dive

There was an excruciatingly long break between bands, and I started to realize that we’d have to leave the show early because of that. Boo. Luckily, Steve Feeney wrote this show review for the Portland Press Herald so I could read about what I missed—including a sing along cover of “Rich Girl” to end the evening. The State was packed and people were jockeying for a place to stand around us near the front—a far cry from the last times I’ve seen LSD play in teeny listening rooms to seated small audiences. The show was originally supposed to be at Port City Music Hall, but after shout outs in Rolling Stone and The New Yorker, multiple late night show appearances, and the successful release of their acclaimed newest album Bad Self Portraits, the move to State Theatre was made and the show sold out. Awesome.

Lake Street Dive’s lead singer, the incomparable Rachael Price, was a showstopper, but absolutely humble and genuinely grateful for the warm reception they received. She welcomed us to “the biggest show we’ve ever done,” and she seemed stunned by our presence as we surely were by hers. She was buoyed by the enthusiastic crowd and told us that they were at the end of a long tour and we were lifting them up. I love it when a band shows appreciation for the audience. A little friendly banter goes a very long way in my book and can make or break a concert experience.

LSD Instagram Rachael Rach

Rachael Price, Mike Calabrese, Bridget Kearney, and Mike Olson met almost a decade ago as classmates at Boston’s New England Conservatory and have been together ever since. One of the many things I love about this insanely talented jazzy pop group is that each is a star in their own right. Rachael is the most obvious talent because she leads with breathtaking vocals, but everyone is an integral part of this perfect puzzle. Bridget’s bass is full and mesmerizing. Mike Olson’s trumpet parts feel like they have their own voice. Mike Calabrese knows how to showcase everyone and when to pick it up or slow it down on drums for the greatest impact. They are a true team.

Bridget had a sick solo on “Henrietta” and Rachael told us Bridget wrote “Love Doctor” as well. Bridget seems to be the head writer for the group these days. Their producer, Sam Kassirer, joined them onstage for a few songs on the keys. He owns and operates The Great North Sound Society in isolated Parsonfield, Maine—so there’s a Maine connection to Lake Street Dive’snew album, which was recorded there.

I am so happy you were all there to see Lake Street Dive live. What a treat. Lake Street Dive posted a picture and a thank you to the sold out crowd on Facebook and I’ve rarely seen so many likes and comments on a post in such short time.

Lake Street Dive showing Portland, Maine some love on Facebook!

Lake Street Dive showing Portland, Maine some love on Facebook!

Whatever it was that introduced you to Lake Street Dive—Kevin Bacon’s tweet with a link of their cover of “I Want You Back” (which has almost two million views now), their appearances on The Colbert Report, The Ellen Degeneres Show, and The Late Show with David Letterman, or even just that Portland’s 98.9 WCLZ made their song the free download of the week a month or so ago, welcome to the fan club!

To quote David Letterman after their performance on his show—“Are you kidding me? Come back every night. Can you do that?” Perfectly said, Dave. I’m sure I speak for everyone at the show when I say that I hope you’ll come back soon to see us again! Thanks, Lake Street Dive!

xo,

bree

A packed State Theatre crowd. So sad to have to leave early!

A packed State Theatre crowd. So sad to have to leave early!

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The Ballroom Thieves with the Soil & the Sun and Starlight Cicada

Friday, April 4, 2014

Empire, Portland, Maine

The Ballroom Thieves is one of my favorite bands from New England. Their percussive, harmonic sound and heartfelt, relatable lyrics are infectious. I’m a fan and plan to see them whenever they come to Maine. Fridays are usually the day of the week that I’m most tired and ready for bed before dark, but I gladly persevered until midnight to see the Thieves again. Check out my previous Ballroom Thieves posts from June 2013, October 2013, and January 2014.

I hadn’t seen a show at Empire since it’s reopening, and I liked the updates to the concert space upstairs. An aside: I’m often confused by folks who come out to see live music at bars. It seems like a lot of people just talk (loudly and even louder as the night goes on) throughout the show. Why bother buying a ticket to a show? Maybe just go to a bar without a band playing? It’s distracting (okay, annoying) for those of us who came to listen, but I digress.

I showed up late after a long dinner with girlfriends and was glad to catch the bulk of Starlight Cicada’s set. Maine’s own Elizabeth Taillon (Starlight Cicada is her unique moniker) is a former busker. I was impressed with the power of her vocals and with how revelatory and heavy her lyrics were. Her simple, finger picked electric guitar was a perfect accompaniment for her big voice and slow, mellow songs. I was drawn to a song that had the refrain “love me or be alone.” I ended up leaning over to the guy standing next to me to ask if he knew anything about Starlight Cicada—and, lucky me, he was her boyfriend. I’d like to see her again in a listening room and hear a little biographical information and background about the songs. Check out Starlight Cicada’s EP “The Mansion Demos.

Starlight Cicada

Starlight Cicada

The Ballroom Thieves discovered the Soil & the Sun when recording their Audiotree SXSW Showcase in Austin and invited them to come to New England and play some shows together. Grand Rapids, Michigan’s the Soil & the Sun was fantastic. I was glad that Caroline finished work downstairs and could come up to join me so I’d have someone to chat with about how interesting their music was. Their sound is full—six gifted musicians play multiple, rotating instruments including two keyboards, violin, drums, bass, guitar, tambourine, oboe (that wasn’t a clarinet, right?), and assorted percussive items. Since genres are so blurred these days, I’d dub theirs “indie orchestral.” I was reminded of North Carolina’s Lost in the Trees a bit during their set. I was impressed with their layered songs with ever-changing tempos, gorgeous harmonies, and instrumentation. I would have loved to hear a bit about the band and their songs, and I wish they’d been able to play a bit longer so my sweetie (who was a music major in college and a quite serious, accomplished flute player for many years) could have heard them. They’re impressive and I hope they’ll come back this way.

the Soil & the Sun

the Soil & the Sun

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The Ballroom Thieves took the stage and opened with “Brother.” It stuck out as one of their best to me and was a strong opening. Devin, Martin, and Calin were spot on, as always. Jeff made it in time to catch their set from the beginning and he and Caroline, seeing them for the first time, were both impressed. The Thieves complimented the new Empire and raved about their fantastic meal as they recounted their entrees by name.

Martin Earley, Devin Mauch, and Calin Peters are The Ballroom Thieves

Martin Earley, Devin Mauch, and Calin Peters are The Ballroom Thieves

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“Oak” is pretty. I’m looking forward to having that song to listen to on repeat when The Ballroom Thieves’ upcoming album drops. I liked hearing new songs, too, and the Thieves played a few. One of the lyrics that caught me was “I would burn into the ground to take you home.” Their harmonies are always strong, but were even more mesmerizing when they sang a cappella on “Stones.” I appreciated it at the end of the night when the guys thanked us sincerely for coming out and for our continued support of their music. They can be a little goofy onstage (and I like their comfortable banter with the crowd), but it’s clear that they genuinely appreciate the opportunity to play for an attentive audience.

I love this shot of Devin

I love this shot of Devin

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They unplugged and came out into the middle of the room to play “Save Me,” definitely one of my favorites, to wrap the night. Folks circled around them and the room was completely silent but for the beautiful lyrics and harmonies of that song. I was impressed (but not surprised) that the Thieves garnered total silence from a bar crowd at midnight on a Friday night. They’re that good. Check them out next time they’re in town—you can meet me front and center!

"Save Me" unplugged in the middle of the room

“Save Me” unplugged in the middle of the room

Thanks, Thieves!

xo,

bree

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The Avett Brothers with Old Crow Medicine Show

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland, Maine

Ken is seeing more music in 2014 than I am! And he has two small children, so I have no idea what my excuse is. I think I’ve been hibernating this winter, and even the 45 minute drive to Portland has seemed like a genuine trek given the darkness of the season. Today is the first day of spring, though, so I expect all that to change soon. Here’s another beautifully written post by my dear friend and comrade-in-music, Ken Templeton. Thanks, Ken! I feel like I was right there with you!

xo,

bree

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It’s pretty hard to overestimate how much The Avett Brothers’ music means to me. I remember sitting at Chumley’s with a friend many years ago, telling him that I’d been casting about for new music. “The Avett Brothers,” he said. “They’re bluegrass-with-muscle.” I’ll confess that I didn’t go to the music store: I went to Napster. I stole a few songs like At The Beach and Old Wyom. Within a few days, I was at Bull Moose, cleaning them out of the few Avett Brothers discs they had in stock. But it was seeing them live that made me really love this band. Their passion, vulnerability, and joy for music have made Avett Brothers concerts some of the best experiences I’ve had as a music fan.

It was great to see them again (for the fifth time) last Monday at the Civic Center. I first saw them years ago at the Trocadero (a place I used to see The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Toasters and The Bouncing Souls play when I was in high school). The Troc is a great little club, a little smaller than the State and there really isn’t a way to replicate that intimate experience in an arena. But the Avetts’ energy is infectious and capacious, and more than fills a room – even a big one.

Image by Crackerfarm. (Pictured:  Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett).

Image by Crackerfarm. (Pictured: Joe Kwon, Scott Avett, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett).

They started out with Shame and Die, Die, Die, both off of Emotionalism. Shame is so much fun – great song to get a crowd of people belting out: “Shame / Boatloads of shame / Day after day / More of the same.” They followed these up with Talk on Indolence, a ripping stomp of a song that is usually featured in the beginning of their sets to draw everybody in. It’s from Four Thieves Gone and I think represents some of the different musical influences on this band: the banjo is strong and driving, there’s some punkish screaming, the song begins as a rap (sort of), and the tempo goes from all-out frenzy to drunken slowness and back again. While it’s hard to say that there is one song in the Avetts’ catalogue that captures them, this one might be it.

Ketch Secor joined the band for Thank God I’m a Country Boy. Ketch is probably the only guy in music who can make Scott Avett seem somewhat subdued. It was fun to see them play together. He can rip on the fiddle and his back-and-forth with Seth on the guitar was a blast.

Live and Die and Laundry Room came next. I was really hoping for Laundry Room. (They kicked off that show at the Troc years ago with it, and I clearly remember being transfixed.) That tune just has so many great lines – for me, it’s all about this verse: “Last night, I dreamt the whole night long. / I woke with a head full of songs. / I spent the whole day; I wrote ‘em down, but it’s a shame. / Tonight I’ll burn the lyrics, cause every chorus was your name.”

At this point, I was pretty sure they’d play something off their new album, Magpie and the Dandelion. Nope. They jumped into a breakneck version of Old Joe Clark with a slow, slow, slow interlude of The Roving Gambler, back to an even faster OJC. OK, now something from Magpie. Nope. Distraction #74, from Four Thieves and then At The Beach. I love At The Beach. Not only was it an introduction to me for this band, but it evokes, for me, rolling down your car windows and cranking the volume on this tune and giving the accelerator a little more shoe. “I know that you’re smilin baby, / I don’t even need to see your face. / Sunset at the shoreline / We are laughin, breaking up, just like the waves. / Are you feelin, feelin, feelin what I’m feelin – like I’m floating, floating / Up above that big blue ocean. Sand beneath our feet / Big blue sky above our heads, no need to keep / The stressin from our everyday life on our minds / We just had to leave all that behind.”

At this point, my dogs are barkin. There hasn’t been reason at all to sit down and take a load off. The whole show has been stunning. And then they kick into Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise, which has to be one of the great descriptions of willing yourself to believe, despite what all the evidence might point to: “There was dream / And one day I could see it. / Like a bird in a cage, I broke in / And demanded that somebody free it. / There was a kid / With a head full of doubt / So I screamed til I died / And the last of those bad thoughts was finally out.” This song, and others like it off I and Love and You (like The Perfect Space) used to feature a lot of instrument-switching for the band – Seth would jump on the drums while Scott went to the piano. Now they have a full band, with Joe Kwon on cello, Mike Marsh on drums, and Justin (?) on organ, and the sound on songs like Head Full of Doubt rises to meet the grandeur implied by the lyrics.

11 songs in, they played Another is Waiting, the single from Magpie and then Skin and Bones, which is one of the great little gems on the new album. I was shocked that it was over an hour into the set before they played any new songs. But one of the great things you can see if you look at the Avetts’ set lists is that they really are different each night. Of the 26 songs they played in Pittsburgh, two nights prior to Portland, 11 were played again in Portland. (Looking at that list, it seems like they did include a few songs that feature just Scott and Seth, which didn’t happen at the Civic Center – that aspect of their show is usually so wonderful and I definitely missed it. There was an extended stage into the audience, and I thought that there would be a lovely little three or four song mini-set of the two of them on songs like When I Drink, Ten Thousand Words, Murder in the City, and Tear Down The House.)

Salina is one of my favorite Avett Brothers tunes – the one I used to introduce the band to my friend Max Garcia Conover (see here and here for Bree’s reviews of Max’s recent shows) – and it was fantastic. “Cleaveland, I ain’t never felt nothin’ so strong. / Been believin’ the words to my songs, / Ohio, I’m leaving. Ohio, I’m gone.” This video of Salina is awesome – it’s over in Glasgow, Scotland and when Seth sings the bridge, a lovely Scottish lass yells “sexy bastard” at him, making Scott kind of laugh, trying to sing, “Poughkeepsie, hang up the telephone.” And, while we have a minute, how many bands can throw Poughkeepsie into a song?

I and Love and You was, as it always is, rousing and beautiful and spiritual and gorgeous. Seth on the piano and Scott leading the crowd through chorus after chorus: “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in. / Are you aware the shape I’m in? / My hands they shake, my head it spins / Oh, Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in.” In the past, I have seen them end shows with this song, so it was interesting to see it here, and I think that it probably doesn’t work as well in the middle of a set – it seems like it either has to come at the very beginning or very end. It would be a great opening song, I think. To some degree, I felt like there was a four-song lull after “I and Love and You,” and I think at least part of that is this is a hard song to follow up.

They followed with Pretty Girl from Chile, a song I like, but is harder to engage with in concert, I think, because it leaps through the gamut of the band’s musical influences and expressions: it starts like a fairly standard country-ish tune: “I’m no more than a friend girl / I can see that you need more. / My boots are on my feet now / My bag is by the door.” But then it goes all flamenco (Seth’s guitar on this was spectacular), then heavy, driving, power-chord electric guitar, then hilarious answering machine message. Each part of the song was good, but it seemed like crowd had a hard time following the progressions. The next three songs are ones that I just don’t dig as much: The Fall, then Vanity, and Never Been Alive. All fine songs, but The Fall has always been a bit uninteresting to me, lyrically speaking, Vanity is my least favorite song on Magpie and Never Been Alive is a song from Magpie that just felt too slow for this part of the show. I sat down and took a rest at this point.

Paranoia in B-Flat Major and Go to Sleep ended the show – two really fun songs to sing along to and stomp around. Both songs are from Emotionalism and are kind of quintessential Avett songs, with a good amount of dissonance between the upbeat music and lyrics that explore some very challenging emotions. In Paranoia, Scott sings, “There was a time I could move, a time I could breathe / With crowded spaces filled with angry faces, it didn’t once cross my mind / With paranoia on my heels, will you love me still / When we awake and you find the sanity is gone from my eyes?” The crowd sang with Seth on Go To Sleep as he led a call-and-response of “La la, la la la la.” There was plenty of laughter, on stage and in the crowd, as he climbed out of our range into his own high notes that were barely squeaks.

The encore was stupendous. Old Crow Medicine Show joined and they tore through Fireball Mail before leading the audience in a really fun version of Will The Circle Be Unbroken, with Scott, Ketch, and Seth taking turns singing verses.

Then, Seth, who normally hits all the high notes, comes out with: “Doh, doh, doh, doh,” in the low register and we all start singing “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight.” It was sweet and fun, and if you were there and weren’t singing, then you’re a cynic. I guess there are worse things to be, but not at an Avett Brothers show!

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The Lone Bellow with Aoife O’Donovan

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

*The Lone Bellow is my favorite band of 2013. Their live show is joyful, breathtaking, heart wrenching, and beautiful. You’ve really, really got to see them live. I’m lucky to have seen them twice so far this year and already look forward to the next time. I was so excited when I showed up to the box office and saw my dear friends Ken and Max standing there buying tickets for the show. I’ve been talking about The Lone Bellow for basically the whole year, so was thrilled to have motivated some folks to come out for the show. At least ten of my friends were there that night and it was lovely to share the experience with so many people I care about. I’ve asked just a handful of friends to write posts about shows we’ve seen together for whatbreesees.com over the past couple of years, but three out of the four (you know who you are) didn’t complete their homework. My college classmate and teacher friend, the extraordinary Ken Templeton, was so moved by the performance that he not only readily agreed to write the show recap for whatbreesees.com, but also sent it to me just three short days later. Ken was an English major at Bowdoin and is a former English teacher, so please enjoy how well written this post is. Thanks so much, Ken! I’m thrilled you loved The Lone Bellow like I do!*

The show started with Aoife O’Donovan (of Crooked Still) opening. She is a singer/songwriter with a gorgeous voice that is clear and strong, but she doesn’t try to blow you out of the room. She is often quiet and understated in her delivery.  Aoife was joined by bassist Jacob Silver and guitarist Austin Nevins.

Austin Nevins, Aoife O'Donovan, and Jacob Silver

Austin Nevins, Aoife O’Donovan, and Jacob Silver

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Aoife opened with “Red and White and Blue and Gold,” from her first solo release, Fossils. It’s a catchy tune, evoking carefree summer days, leaving it all behind–good stuff like that. [Aoife also opened with that song earlier in the afternoon when she recorded a Newsroom Session in the Portland Press Herald studio with Aimsel Ponti]. Aoife sings, “Come on sit next to me / Bury my feet, bury my feet in the sand. / There’s a hole, it’s twelve miles deep. / I dug it with my hands.” She introduced her song “Lay My Burden Down,” noting that another person recorded it first (that other person is Alison Krauss). That has to be a funny thing, when some listeners might mistake your song for a cover.

Aoife did a wonderful cover of Blaze Foley’s tune “Clay Pigeons,” which she said she learned from John Prine. (Here’s his version and The Avett Brothers’ version too.) It’s a song that sounds like many songs that Prine wrote; it opens like this: “I’m goin’ down to the Greyhound Station, gonna get a ticket to ride. / Gonna find that lady with two or three kids and sit down by her side.” Everyday experiences, everyday people–we can all see that “lady,” even though she’s not described in any detail. Aoife takes a similar kind of approach in some of her songs, although the ‘speakers’ of her songs seem like they might read more books than John Prine’s do. In “Thursday’s Child,” she writes, “No one’s riding shotgun, I’m driving alone. /  I can turn up the music and do whatever I want. / When I get to border, I put a quarter / In the pay phone. / Oh, my tyranny’s gonna crumble. / So, sit next to me and fumble / With the buttons on my dress.”

Jacob Silver provided some sweet whistling on “Lovesick Redstick Blues” and there was a great sing-a-long on “Oh, Mama,” with a willing crowd belting out: “Oh, Mama, play me a love song / Pour me some bourbon / And lay me down low. / Mmm, baby, my poor heart is breakin’ / I feel the ground shakin’ / Under my feet / So put me to sleep.” Austin Nevins’s lead guitar work was exceptional. I’ve seen him play with Josh Ritter a few times, and have always been impressed with his spare decisions as a soloist. He is very efficient, picking notes here and there to accentuate the vocals and then traveling up and down the neck for his solos. Bree saw Austin play with Dietrich Strause a few months ago and with Josh Ritter back in May.

Now, as for The Lone Bellow

Bree told me. She did. When she saw The Lone Bellow at the Sinclair, she said that it was one of the best shows she’d ever seen. She was right. They put on a show that picks you up and shakes you by the shoulders and gives you a bear hug–you laugh and say, “Stop, put me down,” but they don’t, they spin you around and when they stop the whole place is dead quiet and you don’t even want to sniffle because you might miss something. This is all to say that if you get the chance to see The Lone Bellow, don’t miss them.

Zach Williams plays guitar and sings lead vocals, with a raspy, gritty sound that belies incredible range. Kanene Pipkin plays mandolin and sings lead and harmony. Brian Elmquist plays lead guitar and sings as well. To be clear, any one of these three would be a great lead singer–they’re all that good. They share the stage really beautifully with each other and at times seem genuinely in awe of each other’s talents. Brian Griffin was excellent on the drums and Jason Pipkin (Kanene’s husband) played bass.

The Lone Bellow: Brian Elmquist, Zach Williams, and Kanene Pipkin

The Lone Bellow: Brian Elmquist, Zach Williams, and Kanene Pipkin

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Brian Griffin on drums

Brian Griffin on drums

They opened with “I Let You Go,” a lovely little tune that takes full advantage of their stunning vocal harmony. It was an intimate start to a set that from there went 100 miles an hour for the next thirty minutes. Next up was “You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional.” “You Never Need Nobody” followed, the first song I ever heard by The Lone Bellow (from their Tiny Desk Concert). Even on slower numbers like this one, the band is in full-tilt mode, stomping, sweating, and swooning all over the stage. They are physically exuberant about their music in a way that is, I think, uniquely Southern.  You see The Avett Brothers approach their shows in a similar way. Introducing “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To” as a song about marital strife, Zach got the crowd clapping while Kanene took over the lead vocals. The crowd sang along with “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold.” How can you not sing along with that chorus; it’s too catchy: “Green eyes and a heart of gold / All the money’s gone and the house is cold / But it’s all right, it’s all right, / It’s all right, it’s all right.”

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Clapping along with Zach

Clapping along with Zach

The best part of the night, I thought, was when they pared down to just Zach, Brian, and Kanene around one microphone for a few numbers. The first of these, “Watch Over Us,” was the showstopper for me. Brian on lead vocals, Zach and Kanene supporting. Brian’s performance was so charged and emotional that when he sang, “But my baby’s sleeping,” then paused for at least four beats, the whole crowd was si-lent. That is hard to do. No “woos”. No jackass shouting “yeah!” or “ow!” Silent. Because we were right up front, I know why he paused–he was catching his breath. It’s not often that you see a singer expend that kind of energy, but man he was wringing himself out on that song.

"Watch Over Us" was breathtaking

“Watch Over Us” was breathtaking

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Jason Pipkin looking lovingly at this wife, Kanene

Jason Pipkin looking lovingly at this wife, Kanene

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Zach dedicated “Tree to Grow” to his wife, who was there for the concert with their infant daughter. It’s a great song, with this stirring refrain: “A tree I’ll grow to let you know / My love is older than my soul.” The band returned to blast through “Bleeding Out” and then they had Aoife come back on stage to sing “Angel from Montgomery.” It was a really great performance and prompted more passionate singing from the crowd. (Here is a wonderful version from The Lone Bellow with Brandi Carlile).

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The Lone Bellow invited Aoife up on stage for “Angel from Montgomery”

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Zach then engaged in some serious banter. He said that he ate at Becky’s Dinner and had a drink at Eventide. At Becky’s, he described a guy there who “took off his buffalo plaid jacket to reveal his buffalo plaid shirt,” and described “the rope that was holding up his pants.” This transitioned to a story about his uncle Dale, who seems like one of the more entertaining people in the world to hear about. Southerners can tell stories, and Zach told us a great one about his uncle, his uncle’s wife in the hospital and Dale’s decision to buy a number of items at the trick shop. I won’t ruin it for you–it’s better live. The song “Fire Red Horse” is about Dale: “The fire red horse / That could not be tamed. / He could not be broken / My uncle’s red flame.” “Button” was another highlight, with Kanene rattling the walls a bit with her vocals.

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Their encore–“Teach Me To Know” maintained the all-out energy of their set. Another (yes, another) great sing along and everyone clapping to the driving beat.

As they stood on stage to huge applause, each band member said “Thank you, thank you” to the audience. This was more than perfunctory thanks. This is a humble group that works incredibly hard and knows that there are millions of talented, dedicated musicians who never make it and they appreciate their shot. Throughout the show, you could almost see them in an apartment in New York a couple of years or so ago, singing and stomping, knowing they had something special to share.

The setlist

The setlist

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David Berkeley with Max Garcia Conover

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

What can I say about Max Garcia Conover that I haven’t already? Max is a dear friend and a fantastic singer-songwriter. I’ve seen him play so many times, but each experience is different and wonderful. I love watching him grow and develop as an artist. His first major show for the release of his first EP was back in 2011 at One Longfellow Square opening for David Berkeley. Max sent David a copy of his EP when it was finished and wrote him an email to let him know how much his music had inspired him to become a songwriter. David replied kindly and asked if they might play a show together. And then they did. How amazing!

Max opened with “In City Light,” which is about living in a city. He joked that even thought he’d like to live in the wild, he’d definitely die if he tried. Actually, that’s something new I can add about Max’s live show—his banter has gotten a lot more confident and he told funnier stories! We laughed a lot that night with Max (not at him). For example, Max told a story about taking Sophie out for her birthday dinner in Portland on their new scooter and a guy who hollered out to him to give him “mad props” for a getting a girl like that with the scooter! It was hilarious.

Max Garcia Conover

Max Garcia Conover

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I really love Max’s newer song “Wildfires Outside Laramie, Wyoming.” He talked about it being about a national tragedy and two sides that can’t communicate with each other. Max also talked about how people at shows like to hear banter (I know I do!) and how he’s a quiet person (although he said a lot more at this show than he usually does). It inspired “Say That You Know Me.” I think “The Wedding Line” is my favorite song off of Max’s newest album, Burrow. I’m excited to report that Max is recording his next album this winter, too!

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Max told us about his very elderly grandmother in New York who has encouraged his songwriting from the very beginning and always wants him to play his songs for her whenever he visits home. He went to visit her in her assisted living apartment last time he was home and she wanted him to play with the door open so others could hear. She can’t hear very well, so she didn’t realize another resident was playing the organ just outside the open door. The organist and Max had a little unplanned competition for the attention of folks walking by in the hallway.

Blurry Max leading a sing along

Blurry Max leading a sing along

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Max wrapped his set with “As Much A Rising Sun as a Setting One,” which is one of my favorites, and “The Start of Fables,” which included some audience participation. Max likes to ask the audience to sing, and since his twenty best friends come out to all of his shows (including me), we always oblige and really go for it. He always reminds the crowd that sing alongs can be awkward or awesome—so just to go for volume over quality. Max recorded a set with Sofar Sounds in Boston a few nights later and you can see they sang along on “The Start of Fables” with him quite happily. Always great to see you live, Max! Until next time.

David Berkeley took the stage after intermission joined by Bill Titus on guitar. They opened with “Angelina.” I like how the song reminisces about an old love and wonders how she feels about it, too—“I hope you don’t regret me.” I’m a big fan of “George Square,” which we learned is in Glasgow, Scotland. David and his family have lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico since August of 2012. It never rains there, David told us, which inspired his most recent album, The Fire In My Head.

David Berkeley

David Berkeley

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I appreciate David’s crystal clear voice. As someone who is interested in lyrics, I really appreciate being able to hear each and every word that he sings. He covered Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” and it was the first time I understood all of the words! I really liked “Wishing Well” about a man who was left by his wife and finds solace in the construction of a bridge. I especially liked the lyric “build me a bridge that’s forever between two heads and two hearts.”

David Berkeley and Bill Titus

David Berkeley and Bill Titus

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David got a request from someone in the front row and realized they were asking for a song he’d written for someone else. He told us that he tries not to get attached to those songs and doesn’t play them live. He’s also found a calling as a marriage proposal singer. He’s literally played during someone’s marriage proposal. He thinks it’s kind of weird, as do I, except then my friend and singer-songwriter Taylor Carson mentioned doing the same thing just a few days later. It’s apparently a thing I didn’t know about.

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David played “Glory” for Max. I especially like the lines “And I’m sorry I’m not all those things/But I’m doing the best that I can/So don’t let go of me.” In thinking about what I like about David’s songs, I appreciate the emotion they evoke. We’ve all loved and lost, so they are easy to connect to. “Fire Sign” is one of my favorite David Berkeley songs and I was glad to hear it live.

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David gave a shout out to his friend he’d gone to high school with who was in the audience. They’d sung together in an a cappella group, and he credited this friend with making him really like music. Lucky us. He also told us that he and Bill had been stopped by police in NYC on this leg of the tour. Bill was driving a rental car with Florida plates and pulled over to pick up David who was wearing a backpack and had just climbed up the stairs from the subway. They couldn’t actually figure out how to roll down the window for the police officer, either, and David eventually had to play a song to prove they were musicians on tour.

I am truly lucky to be part of a marvelous friend group. Max is in it. There are about twenty of us. We do things like go to Max’s shows (we took up the first few rows at this one, for example), spend weekends at Sugarloaf snowshoeing in the winter, and enjoy Friendsgiving together. One thing that has become part of our vernacular since the first time we saw Max with David Berkeley is the use of the phrase “hard merge.” We use to describe times we’re struggling. Most weeks, someone will send out an email inviting the girls in the group to wine time in Portland. If one of us is having a bad week, we might reply, “Can’t wait for wine time—this week’s been a hard merge.” We’ve borrowed the phrase from David Berkeley’s song “Willis Avenue Bridge.” I mentioned it to him after the show and he didn’t seem offended that we’ve incorporated “hard merge” into our lives.

David talked about vinyl and how excited he was that his music was available on it now. He started to wrap up his set with “Shelter,” which I really love. He played “Jefferson” and without pause, went right into a cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” At least that’s what I think happened. I was a bit mesmerized at the power of the songs woven together and forgot to write it down and now that was over two weeks ago and my memory is fuzzy. For the first time I can remember, I got a migraine during a show. I couldn’t actually see Max at the end of his set or David and Bill at the beginning of theirs.

It’s always nice to see David Berkeley play those beautiful songs of his live. One of my favorite moments from the last time I saw him was when he read “Empty Tank Denial” from his book 140 Goats and a Guitar—essays about what inspired his album Some Kind of Cure. “Empty Tank Denial” is a hilarious true story that sets up his song “Parachute.” It’s worth a listen. Thanks again, Bill and David. See you next time!

xo,

bree

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