Tag Archives: Sturgill Simpson

Max Garcia Conover

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blue, Portland, Maine

*Max’s ellery release show is tomorrow night at Mayo Street Arts at 7:30pm. We are all so excited for this moment for Max. The album is beautiful. He, Sophie, and their dog Arlo are about to embark on a many month long national tour in their little RV, so this is your last chance to see Max locally for some time. See y’all tomorrow!? Regular whatbreesees contributor Ken Templeton saw Max last week at Blue. I decided I couldn’t muster the strength to stay up that late so far from home on a school night! Thanks for sharing, Ken!*

I moved to Massachusetts in July. It’s been wonderful–the people here have been incredibly welcoming and outgoing in a way that has surprised me (I grew up in New Jersey–‘nuff said). Musically, it’s been incredible. I got to see Sturgill Simpson the other night and have my eye on Shovels & Rope and Charlie Parr in the next couple of weeks. One thing I am bummed about though is missing some of my friend Max Garcia Conover’s gigs as he embarks on his national tour in support of his truly stunning album ellery. But I happened to be in Portland last week and caught his show with Matt Wheeler at Blue.

Max trades songs with other songwriters at Blue once a month. This is fun because you almost always get a very different sensibility from each songwriter, and this night was no different. Matt’s songs are mostly narrative in nature, with strong nods to literature and history. One song, “Lexington” describes a young man longing both to join the revolution against Britain and to see his love; another song “River (A Dark Chase)” is based on a chapter in Les Miserables. I walked in as Matt was covering Josh Ritter’s tune Idaho,” and there are many similarities between Matt’s songwriting and Ritter’s approach. You can imagine these lyrics (from Matt’s song “Gold”) on a Josh Ritter album: “Sometimes bitter roots / Give rise to sweeter fruits / And all your sticks and stones, they turn to gold.” Matt and Josh use similarly playful rhyme schemes and opposition of emotions. Matt’s guitar playing is rhythmic and crisp, both while strumming and finger-picking, and he engages the audience nicely by asking for sing-alongs with songs like Indigo.” He ended the show with a beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Max Garcia Conover back in July at One Longfellow Square in Portland

Max Garcia Conover back in July at One Longfellow Square in Portland

Max’s songs during the set were mostly from ellery. The crowd at Blue was so attentive–they were really there to listen to music. Everyone was leaning forward when Max sat down at a table with his wife Sophie Nelson to sing Wildfires Outside Laramie, WY.” He said he wrote the song as a reflection on the times like Ferguson, where Max’s friend DeRay has been recently, holding a sign “My blackness is not a weapon.” Max described DeRay as one of the nicest people he’s ever met, and it is so difficult that the nicest person he’s ever met has to hold that sign. The performance was perfect–understated, emotional (but not sentimental), and it felt like we were at a house concert for a few minutes.

Keep Us All is the first track on ellery, but Max wasn’t sure it would even make the record. His genius producer, Ben Cosgrove, convinced him to lead off the album with it, and it’s grown so much on Max that he has added a transfixing, fingerpicked introduction to the live performance of the song. Max played one of his older songs, from his first EP, “As Much A Rising Sun As A Setting One,” and that was beautiful (here is an almost-as-good-if-you-can’t-be-there-in-person version). The Songs is another favorite from ellery, with it’s perfect juxtaposition of truth and artifice:  “time busted engines barked and choked / forgotten for useless as wedding coats / the towers of men the starving ford / he don’t want truth he wants something more / subcontracted gardeners for cul de sacs / slow moving parades of white cadillacs / the national mascot, the savior sighs / they don’t want truth just tell better lies.” The Start of Fables,” was great too, as the audience sang loudly along with the chorus:  “Honey we been tryin’ / honey we been tryin’ / honey we tryin’ like a barnswallow tries / piling sticks so high.”

Max hits the road on September 12. Check out his tour dates here and pick up ellery so you can sing along.

Check out Max on his upcoming national tour!

Check out Max on his upcoming national tour!

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Sturgill Simpson

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Brighton Music Hall, Boston, MA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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