Taking the stage barefoot, Brett Dennen had the standing-room only crowd dancing along to his folk and Afrobeat inspired music Tuesday night. Playing a nearly two-hour set at the Canal Room, Dennen showcased his remarkable guitar picking and quirky onstage antics, at times acting as a puppeteer while slowly scatting throughout various interludes in his songs — truly a sight to see.
The New York gig was the last of Dennen’s intimate acoustic tour supporting his latest release, Hope for the Hopeless. Coincidentally, Tuesday was homecoming for him as the Canal Room was the first venue he ever played in New York and it was evident he was glad to be back. And, lucky for New Yorkers, Dennen switched up the night between full band and acoustic sets. “Most of the tour has been an acoustic tour, but New York is important so we thought we’d do a couple songs like they’re on the album,” Dennen told the screaming crowd after his first five full-band songs.
Featuring a mix of older fan favorites from his previous albums, including “Ain’t No Reason” and “She’s Mine” as well as his most recent single “Make You Crazy,” Dennen gave each song character, more than listening to his albums ever could. His lively and welcoming stage presence gave the show more intimacy as he told the crowd, “We need to vibe it out a little more” as the lights dimmed. “If you don’t talk for a while we’ll all be meditating our brains and minds and hearts and we’ll all be in the same place,” Dennen said. “If you want, you can sing along. But don’t sing louder than me because I get insecure.”
While every songwriter has a story behind his song, the tales behind Dennen’s music invoke much depth and emotion. One such example is “Make You Crazy” as it was inspired at an awards ceremony for people in the film industry writing about mental illnesses. After his performance at the awards ceremony, Dennen says he was sitting in the audience while a talk was being given about “the pressures in society and how that alone is enough to make people insane. Not to mention the overwhelming stresses that are out there that have an actual physical effect on people. So I jotted that into my phone and thought about it and those were some ideas from it.”
The mini 12-date tour prefaces a larger tour in early 2009. Of his intimate tour, Dennen says, “It’s just something that, as the bigger my shows get and the farther that I need to travel and grow, I always want to be able to come back to the intimate setting. When you take away all of the production of the band and everything, you still have these quality songs that can come across to more of a folk music setting.”
Poignant ballads like “Heaven” showcase Dennen’s lyrical forte. Of “Heaven” he said, “I’m not specifically writing about the afterlife or people who believe in heaven. I’m writing about this idea that it doesn’t matter how people believe or how sinful we are on earth, as long as we believe in this idea of heaven or this dream — whatever you want to call it — that is going to save us in the end.” He continued, “I’m posing questions about it because I see a lot of contradiction between people and their actions and their morals.”
Overall, the night was a solid mix of music. Whether it was Dennen moving his hips in movement to his guitar playing onstage or the crowd dancing energetically during the last song of his night, “Blessed,” all in attendance had fun and will surely be back to see his next tour stop in New York.
Watch the video below of Brett playing "Blessed" on a previous tour date to get more of a feel of his performance.
Check out Brett's Web site for all his latest information and updates on his upcoming tour!