Tag Archives: State Theatre

Good Old War with Juke Ross

Monday, June 4, 2018

Port City Music Hall, Portland, Maine

I needed this show to go well more than I’d realized. I’ve seen many of my favorite musicians play in the last couple of years to crowds that were rudely on their phones or talking the whole show. It’s gotten disheartening, but this show was different, and helped restore my faith in audiences a little bit. Last night’s crowd was small (it was a Monday, after all), attentive, polite, and clearly appreciated being there. A special thanks to my fellow show-goers for making this such a great night!

I saw Philadelphia’s Keith [Good]win, Tim Arn[old], and Dan Sch[war]tz of Good Old War for the first time opening for my beloved Brandi Carlile at Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom back in 2010, but I’ve known their music for the whole decade they’ve been together. You know a band is great when they open the show for someone you really love, but you’re not in a hurry for them to get off stage. I’ve seen them a handful of times in person, and they are always great. I last saw them open for Josh Ritter at State Theatre in October 2017, and before that at Port City Music Hallin September of 2015. I was so glad to see they were coming back to town just six months after their last stop in Portland.

I checked out show opener, Juke Ross, online before heading down to Portland, and was eager to see him in person after watching this video of a gorgeous live performance of his song, “Colour Me.”Juke is a young singer-songwriter from Guyana, South America, which is on the Caribbean. Doors opened at Port City Music Hall an hour earlier than normal last night, and Juke Ross took the stage a few minutes after 7. There may have been 20 people in the room when he took the stage, but he decided to engage us even though we were such a small crowd, and I commend him for that. His voice is unique and lovely. He told us a little bit of the backstory behind most of his simple songs, and he shined on his cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.” I had a photo pass for the show last night from Good Old War, and I’d meant to take a few shots of Juke, but his songs were so delicate and the crowd was so attentive, that I decided my shutter would be a distraction. It’s really rare to have people at a show be so quiet and focused on the performer that taking a picture would be disruptive. I was psyched that was the case, for a change!

Juke Ross

I was pretty excited that this was an early show, and that Good Old War was on stage by 8pm. They played for a solid two hours, which was such a treat. They opened with “Coney Island,” and then told us that to celebrate their 10 year band anniversary, they’d play their first album, Only Way to Be Alone, from start to finish for us. The crowd had grown by then, and people around me seemed pretty excited to hear that announcement. Keith introduced “We’ve Come A Long Way” by telling us that he and his wife had dated and broken up in 8th grade, but that they got back together about a decade ago as Good Old War formed.

 

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Keith Goodwin

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Tim Arnold

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Good Old War, from L to R:  Kevin Goodwin, Dan Schwartz, and Tim Arnold

IMG_6335After they finished playing Only Way to Be Alone, GOW took and played many, many audience requests, including “Amazing Eyes,” “My Own Sinking Ship,” and the song Keith said is his favorite to play live, Woody’s Hood Boogie Woogie.” Keith remembered that they usually unplug and play part of their set from the floor at Port City Music Hall shows (which is just awesome), and asked us “should we play the rest of the songs down there?” We agreed enthusiastically, so the crowd parted for Keith, Tim, and Dan and the maybe 80-100 of us there encircled them for the rest of the night. Dan played guitar, and we all sang the last ten songs of the night together, which I thought was lovely and special. Also, the people around me had nice voices! Bonus!They started with “Loud Love,” which is one of my favorites. There was a kiddo named Clover who requested “Never Gonna See Me Cry,” so they played that for her even though they hadn’t practiced it and weren’t confident they knew the words (they didn’t, but figured it out). I was really happy to hear “I Should Go” and “That’s Some Dream.” They played “Here Are The Problems” as a request even though they weren’t sure they’d remember it, either. After a couple of songs they didn’t remember well, Keith wanted to play some newer songs they knew better and so they played “In a Heartbeat” and “That Feeling” from their 2018 EP, Part of You.

Keith told us that he loves Portland and even brought his family on vacation to Maine. He said “I took a boat cruise for an hour and a half and you have Eventide and Fore Street! This place is the best!” Mainers tend to agree that this is a pretty special place, so I appreciated the compliment. GOW wrapped their delightful unplugged set with “Calling Me Names,” a “Happy Birthday” song that we all sang for Tanner, who turned 28 yesterday, and “Not Quite Happiness.” They thanked us for being a great audience and told us they’d be back soon. I sure hope so. They are such a pleasure to see live, every single time. I’m always a little surprised that this band isn’t more famous than they are. They deserve the recognition, for sure. Thanks for a really lovely night, y’all!

xo,

bree

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Apocalyptica

Friday, May 25, 2018

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I think nearly every song could be taken to the next level with the addition of a string section, so it shouldn’t surprise you (totally) that I’ve loved Metallica’s S&M (Symphony and Metallica) album for 20 years now. I saw a post from the State Theatre on Facebook announcing a show called Apocalyptica Plays Metallica by Four Cellos, and had literally no idea what it meant. I saw Metallica and cellos together in the same sentence, though, so put the show in my concert calendar without any additional research. A few days ahead of the show, the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra posted a contest on their Facebook and Instagram accounts for a single third row center ticket for the show, which I entered and won. I am SO GLAD that I went to this show on a whim. It was supremely entertaining.

I grabbed my seat and chatted with other Metallica fans around me, who totally knew Apocalyptica and were really excited for the show. I took that as a good sign, but I was SO surprised by how cool and just totally fun this show was. Eicca Toppinen, Perttu Kivilaakso, Paavo Lötjönen, and Antero Manninen were the current touring lineup of Apocalyptica, and the first half of the show was literally the four of them playing four cellos across the stage. They were amazing! I obviously had to look Apocalyptica up after the show, and learned that they are a Finnish orchestral rock band with eight studio releases, including their debut album from 1996, which was Plays Metallica by Four Cellos. I watched an interview with Eicca Toppinen, where he said he was told that Apocalyptica’s album of Metallica covers inspired Metallica to do their collaboration with The San Francisco Symphony in 1999 that became the S&M album. Apocalyptica was even invited to the performance.

After a pretty long intermission, Apocalyptica came back to the stage with Mikko Sirén on a giant drum kit for the second half of their show, which was a total blast and very much a rock concert. I had so much fun at this engaging, unexpectedly awesome show. Thanks for the ticket, MYRO!

xo,

bree

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Caitlin Canty with Noam Pikelny

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

I saw Caitlin Canty by chance back in May of 2012. I was at a Jeffrey Foucault show at One Longfellow Square. At some point in the night he introduced his friend and fellow musician, Vermont’s Caitlin Canty. She was in Portland working on a new record with Sam Kapala (a founding member of Darlingside), and he had taken her out for dinner before the show. He asked her to join him for a song, and I was smitten with her airy, mesmerizing voice. What I didn’t know at the time was that I’d witnessed their first of what would be many, many performances together. I chatted for a while with Caitlin after that show back in 2012, and she has become a friend-in-music who I look forward to seeing whenever she’s in town. I hadn’t seen Caitlin live since 2015 when she moved away to Nashville, so I was really looking forward to seeing her back in Portland.

Colin kindly saved me a seat in the front row, and I arrived a few minutes before show time. I’d had a migraine at school earlier in the day, but I took a nap and rallied for the show. Caitlin and Noam Pikelny took the stage just after 8, and opened with a beautiful song that caught the attention of NPR, “Get Up.” I love that song, and Caitlin grabbed everyone’s attention from the first measure of it, too. Something I noticed even more at this show than last time is that Caitlin has this Alison Krauss quality to her voice where every single sound she makes is truly gorgeous.

Caitlin told us about a song from the Golden Hour album she released back in 2012, “Dotted Line,” that made its way onto House of Cards. She told us “it’s a very good day for a songwriter” when a television show picks up a song. Caitlin, her mom, and her brother watched the episode to hear her song, but didn’t hear it. She’d already cashed the check, so she was puzzled. They watched it again, and realized that they heard three instrumental measures of it during a creepy moment where a woman carrying groceries was being followed down a street. Caitlin laughed and told us it was pretty ironic that one of her “kindest, friendliest” songs was the soundtrack of such a creepy on screen moment.We saw Caitlin and Noam at the end of the release tour for her newest album, Motel Bouquet, which they played every song from for us. Noam produced her album, although he normally tours with The Punch Brothers. It was really a treat to hear him play in such a tiny venue. Caitlin had played a hometown show in Vermont a night or two earlier, and she said it was a community effort. The show was in a space that’s not normally a venue, so her dad and brother set up chairs, her high school music teacher ran the sound, and they borrowed a rug from a neighbor to absorb some of the echo on stage. She joked that compared to that show “you’re all sitting so quietly and you’re not sweaty from setting up chairs or anything.”

Caitlin’s album is named for a bouquet of flowers someone left for her after a show that inspired a song, but she’d thought about naming it Who after one of her favorite songs on the album. She said she was so lucky to have Noam as her producer for many reasons, but also because he talked her out of naming her album Caitlin Canty: Who? Noam chimed in that it was “better than Caitlin Canty: Why?” Noam and Caitlin struck a deal that she’d play a song solo if he would. Noam introduced his solo song by telling us that a year and a half ago, “it became apparent that it was time, yet again, to milk the instrumental banjo cash cow.” His 2017 release, Universal Favorite, is mostly instrumental banjo music. He joked, “I’ll play you guys the first track off the record, a 53 minute piece, so lock the doors.” The song he played, “Wavelength,” was GORGEOUS. I had no idea that banjo could sound like that. Noam didn’t say much, but he was funny when he did talk. Caitlin mentioned that Noam’s friend texted that he couldn’t make it to the show because his guinea pig died. Noam chimed in, “some of you are laughing right now, but not me. It’s the strangest excuse yet, and shows folks are having to dig real deep to find excuses to not come out to hear me play.”

Caitlin told the story of how she’d come to sing her first song on stage at One Longfellow Square with Jeffrey Foucault, and thanked OLS for their continued support. She generously offered to give anyone who signed up to become a One Longfellow Square member that night one of her albums, which was very kind. She told us that she loves playing her songs for “cold weather folks, but they tend to scoot right out the door after the show.” She asked us to stop by the merch table and say hello before heading home.

I can’t remember what Caitlin played last, but my favorite song on Hotel Bouquet (which I’ve listened to a lot in the car over the last week) so far is “Leaping Out.” I do know that she and Noam earned and we gave a standing ovation. They treated us to one last song, a cover of Emmylou Harris’ “Tennessee Waltz” in honor of heading home to Nashville the next day after a successful record release tour. Caitlin remembered me when I saw her after the show and we chatted about how much she’s loved living in Nashville. I’m so happy for her success.

Colin saw Caitlin open for Josh Ritter last night in Portsmouth, and she’ll be back in town on July 20 opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter at the State Theatre. Caitlin is so worth hearing in person, and I hope you’ll check her out!

xo,

bree

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Rodriguez with Lily & Madeleine

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

I saw Searching for Sugar Man in 2012. It’s the true story of SixtoRodriguez–a singer-songwriter from Detroit who made a couple of folk albums in the 1970s that didn’t reach much of an audience in the US. What he didn’t know, though, was that his album Cold Fact made it to Apartheid-era South Africa, where he outsold Elvis Presley. Rodriguez had droves of dedicated fans in South Africa, but he never knew that and his South African fans didn’t know how to find him or even if he was alive. For two solid decades, while Rodriguez worked in construction and political activism, he was famous in South Africa. His fans tracked him down in the 1990s and it revived Rodriguez’s music career. I missed him by an hour in 2012 at the Newport Folk Festival and this show was scheduled for nearly a year ago, but was postponed. Six years after learning about him, and with Sixto Rodriguez clocking in at 75 years old, I finally had this opportunity to see him in person. I think most of us in the room knew we were lucky to be there.

Sisters Lily & Madeleine Jurkiewicz from Indianapolis opened the show with sparse, pretty songs and perfect sibling harmony. They were grateful for a listening audience, and sang a handful songs for us before turning the stage over to Rodriguez. I imagine it would be extra nerve-wracking to open a show for a legend, but they seemed calm and collected. Lily & Madeleine played piano and guitar, and have been recording together since 2013. Check out their 2014 NPR Tiny Desk Concert (Bob notes that they’re one of the youngest groups ever to record a session) to see what they’re about.

I was so glad I splurged on a second row seat at State Theatre so I could be closer to Rodriguez on stage. The whole night felt like sitting in a relative’s kitchen over coffee–including rants about politics, jokes, and storytelling. Given how hard he’s worked his whole life, I should have expected that Rodriguez shows his age. A couple of people helped him get out on stage, got him comfortable on his stool, positioned the microphone near his mouth, and set his two cups of tea (with lids) down on the table immediately next to him. He wore sunglasses all night, and it was obvious from where I was sitting that his vision is severely compromised at best. He’d touch the microphone to feel how close it was to his mouth. I noticed he’d feel around the lid of his cups of tea to find the slot to drink from. I thought about how much easier his life might have been if he’d been discovered for his talent in the US in the 70s, too, but I don’t think Rodriguez is worried about that at all. He joked that he uses his “senior advantage.”

He described himself as a “musical politico,” and added, “so you know what’s coming. Mr President–you’re under arrest. I have five soldiers in my family. Mexican people serve. And it would be wrong of me to not acknowledge their service in light of a draft dodger. My mother and father were both Mexican. And I know the meaning of the word indigenous.” The crowd roared in support. Well, most of the crowd did. Some of the crowd didn’t like his comments at all, which makes me think they didn’t know what show they’d bought tickets for.

Rodriguez played his own songs–“Inner City Blues,”“Crucify Your Mind,”“I Wonder,” and “Sugar Man” come to mind–and plenty of covers. He played Elton John’s “Your Song” early in the night. The timing wasn’t perfect, and I think some of the lyrics were wrong, but there was something mesmerizing about watching Rodriguez on stage doing his folky thing. The thing I love about folk music is that it tells stories about the truth, and Rodriguez did plenty of that. Some people in the crowd from the other side of the aisle surely thought he talked about politics way too much. Rodriguez had a lot to say, including “I’ve run for state representative of Michigan, Detroit city council, and I’ve also run for my life.” He said, “We need more women to run for public offices because we can see quite clearly that men can do it.” Again, most of the crowd loved it. Some did not.

Rodriguez had a table literally full of different hats on a small table right next to him. He’d feel around the table for a new hat after some of his songs and changed hats a handful of times throughout the night. Maybe they each put him in a different mood for particular songs he played? I don’t know, but it was kind of his “thing” that night. He cracked jokes some, too, and told us that “the secret to life is just to keep breathing in and out.”

I need to mention that the guy sitting next to me, who’d driven six hours from New Brunswick, Canada, paid $75 for his second row seat, and was SUPER DRUNK during the show. It was obnoxious. He literally fell out of his seat from a seated position. He trying to engage with people sitting around him, including me, but he was shouting. I don’t understand why people make the effort to get to a show if they’re not going to remember it after the fact. For the most part, though, the audience was notably attentive and respectful. When the guy next to me shouted at me “WHY IS NO ONE UP AND DANCING?” I was able to whisper to him, “because this is a FOLK CONCERT.”

Rodriguez talked a lot–certainly as much as he played. He named some places in the world where the people united to fight back against oppressive rulers–including Mexico, France, and South Africa–and told us that “oppression results in revolution.” Someone in the crowd shouted back “NELSON MANDELA BOMBED CHILDREN.” There was a strange pause in the room where I think many of us just tried to figure out why someone who was anti-Mandela paid $75 for a ticket to see Rodriguez in person. His music is so obviously about taking on the establishment.  Rodriguez replied, “know your enemy, man.” When he finished his song, he circled back to the moment and said, “whenever I speak to people, I appeal to their collective consciousness, because we know who kills children.” [Side note: Nelson Mandela is a hero of mine. He was elected president of South Africa on my 14th birthday. I studied abroad in Southern Africa because of him. My cat is named Nelson Mandela, too.]

Rodriguez’s show was as much a discourse about the state of the world and a meandering history lesson as a folk concert. I’m a social studies teacher, so I was down to learn from his experience, and I wish more of us were open to hearing the voices that have been silenced. He knew he talked a lot, of course, and told us “I shouldn’t talk so much. My father told me I have a big mouth.”

Rodriguez left us with this piece of advice–“Love is strong, so be gentle with your anger.” A couple of people arrived to help him find his way off stage. He (obviously) earned a standing ovation and was helped back to the stage to play a last song for us. He closed the night with a boldcover of The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which felt like the right note to leave on. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever have the opportunity to see him in person again, and I am so glad I was there in the room for this.

xo,

bree

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Lucius–An Intimate, Acoustic Performance

Lucius–An Intimate, Acoustic Performance

Friday, March 16, 2018

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

This was a lovely night. Lucius is such a pleasure to see live. Holly and Jess’ costumes and stage presence are always beautiful, and their voices are truly perfect. They were quite conversational, too, which I love in a concert experience. My friend Marian is a Lucius superfan and travels all over the country to see them. She’s even traveling to Amsterdam in September for a Lucius show. She ran into Jess at Speckled Ax in Portland the morning of the show and they talked for a few minutes, which totally made her day! Marian and I both accidentally had way too many tickets to this show (because we are always trying to introduce new people to Lucius), but we were able to find people to take them and finagle seats for ourselves in the first and second rows for this intimate, seated show at the State Theatre.

I’m still shocked that Lucius isn’t a household name. For those who know music, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who have been singing together for almost 15 years since they met at Berklee College of Music, have contributed vocals for Roger Waters, Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples, John Prine, Lukas Nelson, and more. To say they’re the sweethearts of the Newport Folk Festival is an understatement. They were featured guests in many Newport artists’ sets over the last handful of years. Their ability to blend flawlessly and not outshine others while also being true rock stars is commendable. Marian and I were both excited to hear the announcement a few days after this show that Lucius will be back at Newport again this summer, which we’ll both attend.

I saw Lucius open for Milo Greene at Brighton Music Hall back in 2012. I was totally smitten right away, and been lucky have seen them a handful of times since then. Lucius don’t know how to put on a bad show, which is a genuine compliment. Perhaps the most notable thing from this sold out show at the State Theatre was that the audience was silent the entire night. The stage presence it takes to captivate such a big crowd like that seems unimaginable, unless you’ve seen Lucius in person. Thank you, fellow audience members, for making this such a beautiful night. I’ve witnessed more and more disrespect from audiences at shows in the last couple of years, so this night gave me hope and elevated this concert experience to another level. Lucius sang a nice blend of songs from all of their albums–Wildewoman (2013), Good Grief (2016), and their new release, Nudes. They opened with“Go Home” and “Don’t Just Sit There”back-to-back, which brought me right back to when I discovered them in 2012. I wore out their 4 song EP disc from overuse after that first show at Brighton Music Hall. Jess and Holly also sang a few reimagined covers that made me like songs like Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End” even more. I was over the moon to hear “Two of Us on the Run” and “How Loud Your Heart Gets” back-to-back towards the end of their set. They’re both stunning songs.

During the night, Jess said they were honored to be back in Maine at a sold out headlining show. Jess told us that they love Bob and Gail Ludwig fromGateway Mastering in Portland who are some of their most favorite people. Lucius opened for Tegan and Sara back in 2013 at the State, and Jess added that to “see you all here singing the words to our songs, supporting us at our own show, and seeing kids wearing golden capes is a dream come true.” They closed their set with “Woman” from Nudes and left the stage to thunderous applause.

Lucius came back to the stage for a three song encore, starting with “Dusty Trails,” which they invited show opener Ethan Gruska on stage to sing with them. They covered “Strangers” by the Kinks, and Jess introduced their final song of the night with heartfelt comments about the power of music to send positivity into the world. She said:

“This band and us working together has been the power of collaboration. The power of creating something that’s greater than ourselves as individuals that’s positive. We do that with our writing. We have two heads and two hearts lending perspective within one song and we have two voices making one voice and we have our whole band putting on a show together for you guys and at the end of the day, we wouldn’t be here without you, so thank you very much. We feel the power and love that you give to us and it fuels us to be able to do what we do and in having spent so much time together the thing that we’ve learned is that our greatest dream of all is that you each take something from this experience that we are all sharing tonight that you need–whether it’s joy or bittersweetness or sorrow or pain or love or humor–and you take it out into your everyday lives and pay it forward. Share it with a neighbor in the form of love because it may sound repetitive to say this, but it is all we need right now. No matter where you go, do something positive with this.”

They closed the night with a cover of “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” which reinforced their hopes for positivity and community and was a perfect end for a beautiful night. What a night! If you don’t know Lucius, seize this moment to discover them. You’ll be so glad you did.

xo,

bree

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The Best Shows I Saw in 2017!

Happy 2018, All!

2017 was a hard year, but I saw some amazing shows that helped me through. I have been writing whatbreesees.com for six years now, but I’ve only ever written one “Best of” list–all the way back in 2012. I’ll try to make a “Best of” list every year from here on out. It’s good to look back.

I saw 34 shows in 2017, including musicians I’ve seen many times like Ellis Paul, Mipso, Josh Ritter, Lucy Kaplansky, The Ballroom Thieves, and Guster. Even though I saw a solid number of shows, it was actually pretty easy to choose five that stood out. Here they are:

#5. An Evening with Shovels & Rope on Wednesday, October 11 at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine. This intimate show with husband and wife duo Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst gave me all the feels. It was just what I didn’t know I needed.

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Shovels & Rope is Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst

#4. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real with Nikki Lane on Friday, November 17 at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine. I got an invitation from Lukas Nelson’s publicist the day before this sold out show and it was totally worth making it out on short notice. Lukas Nelson has loads of charisma.

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Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

#3. Jamestown Revival with Hannah Daman and the Martelle Sisters on Wednesday, May 3 at Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine. This was my birthday show, and I loved every second of the night from start to finish. Both of these bands are excellent and engaging live.

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Jamestown Revival

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Hannah Daman & the Martelle Sisters

#2. Penny & Sparrow with Lowland Hum on Saturday, April 29 at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Penny & Sparrow are easily one of my favorite live acts. Kyle and Andy write depressing, haunting songs, but their stage banter is hilarious. Their show is a rollercoaster ride in the best way possible. If you want to see a show where you can hear a pin drop, this is it. They are captivating.

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Penny & Sparrow is Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter

And #1. Johnnyswim on Friday, June 23 at State Theatre in Portland, Maine. Husband and wife duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano put on a swoon-worthy show. This show was how I started my summer vacation and it was a perfect, beautiful, inspiring night. Put this band on your “get to know” list.

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Johnnyswim is Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez

There are a few honorable mentions, too.

  • I had a blast seeing The Ghost of Paul Revere and Max Garcia Conover on New Year’s Eve at Port City Music Hall. Both of those acts are on to great things.

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    The Ghost of Paul Revere, Max Garcia Conover, and Friends

  • Noah Gundersen stole the show opening for City & Colour back in June at State Theatre. He’ll be back in Portland in a couple of weeks at Port City Music Hall. I can’t wait to see him as the headliner.

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    Noah Gundersen

  • The Suitcase Junket (Matt Lorenz) also impressed opening for The Ballroom Thieves back in February at Port City Music Hall. I’d seen him before, but he really caught my attention at this show.

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    The Suitcase Junket/Matt Lorenz

Thanks so much to all of these artists and venues for enriching 2017! To readers–thank you! I hope to see you at a show in 2018! Come say hi–I’ll be right up front.

xo,

bree

 

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Bon Iver

Friday, December 8, 2017

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

In a sentence–for me, sadly, this show was a surprising disappointment.

I saw Bon Iver for the first time in September of 2012 at the Bank of America Pavillion in Boston. Caroline and I went together, and she wrote a lovely guest post giving the show a five star rating. I was in the third or fourth row for that full band show, and I was over the moon to hear some of my Bon Iver favorites in person and to sing “The Wolves (Acts I and II)” together. The energy at that show was palpably positive.

When I saw that Bon Iver was playing so nearby in Portland at State Theatre, I was thrilled. I set an alarm to buy tickets in the presale, but the timing of my teaching plans were a little off because we had an unexpected fire drill, so I selfishly asked my students to work on their homework for a few minutes while I tried to get tickets on both my laptop and my phone. My phone came through for me and I snagged a pair of tickets a few rows from the back of the room, and I can’t think of a time I was so happy to have basically back row seats. I checked again when tickets went on sale to the general public, but they seemed completely sold out right away. I read through more than a hundred comments from angry Bon Iver fans about how impossible it was to get tickets for the show, and revelled in my luck. I even looked online at StubHub just to see if I could get seats closer to the stage, but seats in my far away section were selling for $250 each (a huge markup over the $65 face value). I scoffed at the idea of selling my tickets for profit anyhow, but then I went to the show and thought twice.

Bartlett was my lucky date for the night, even though many people inquired about my extra ticket for the show right up until the night of the show. We met for dinner at El Rayo, had a couple of tacos and cocktails, and made our way to State Theatreearly to make it through their added security and because there was no opening act. Justin Vernon took the stage solo, which I am usually totally in favor of, but this was an odd night. I was surprised by how many people were back and forth to the bar and bathroom during the show because we’d all paid a decent amount for these highly sought after tickets and I figured everyone there would be a big fan. (A sarcastic shout out to the annoying super fan couple in the third row that spent most of the night dancing wildly on your feet–rudely obstructing the views of and distracting everyone all around you. You guys made me glad my seats were so far away). There was some sort of chatter coming from the other front orchestra section, I guess, because Justin interjected a snarky comment about them, and then followed up with a comment about how we should all just love each other. Later, someone from the crowd shouted out “I love you, Justin,” and he responded “I have plans later. But I appreciate that.” I thought some (but not all) of his banter with the audience was awkward to the point of kind of mean spirited. It felt like he didn’t want to have to perform for us, and it ruined the show experience for me.

My view of Justin Vernon from the back of the State Theatre

I didn’t feel at all this way five years ago when I first saw Bon Iver live, so I have some theories about this night’s cringeworthy moments. The easiest explanation would be that folks nearest him were being rude and I couldn’t hear it. That, sadly, has been the case at other shows I’ve been to in Portland, where people talk all night over the performer. Regina Spektor’s show earlier this year at State Theatrecomes right to mind. Maybe something has shifted for Justin during these years that makes performing difficult for him, or, he was just having a bad night. If I missed something, please tell me. I’d love to know there was an obvious cause for his somewhat grumpy demeanor.

Musically, Justin was great. I loved hearing so many songs I love live–“Flume,”“Perth,”“Blood Bank,”“Skinny Love,”and “Woods”–and his cover of“I Can’t Make You Love Me”was heart wrenching, as expected. I enjoyed hearing the heavily electronic songs from his 2016 album, 22, A Million in person, too. It felt good to sing “The Wolves (Acts I and II)” together to end the night at Justin’s invitation, but I was very surprised he only played a one song encore (a cover of Mahalia Jackson’s “Satisfied Mind”), because he was on stage less than an hour. I’d felt so lucky to have the opportunity to be in the room, but was genuinely sadly disappointed during and after the show. It felt like an off night from start to finish, and it seemed to me like Justin struggles with the pressures of being a beloved musician, which seemed to shine through during this show. In the end, I am fine with having spent $65 to see Justin Vernon from basically the back row, but I probably wouldn’t do it again, which is disappointing given how much his music has positively impacted my life.

If you missed this show, I honestly don’t think you missed much. Maybe something was going on with the crowd up front that I couldn’t hear. If folks were being rude and Justin was annoyed with them–I can totally live with that. From where I sat, though, this show was a bummer. If you saw another night of this tour and had a very positive experience, I would also like to hear from you so that I know this was simply an off night and that Justin is just fine. I’m truly hoping for that.

xo,

bree

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