Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Taking the stage shortly after 8:30 p.m., the Dears entered Hiro Ballroom while their first song of the night, "Disclaimer," was playing over the loudspeakers. Seconds later, each band member picked up their respective instrument and chimed in. The group's musically rich set seemingly took the audience into a trance with the blue and green lighting only adding to the distinctive aura surrounding the room.
Categorized on MySpace as Other/Other/Other, it is hard to place the Dears into one specific genre of music. Natalia Yanchak, one of the group's core members, describes their music as "Orchestral Pop. Boom." However, even this portrayal doesn't seem sufficient. Either way, the crowd loved them.
Most of the Dears' set was comprised of songs from latest album, Missiles, including "Money Babies," "Berlin Heart" and the beautifully angelic "Crisis 1 & 2" as well as some older obvious fan favorites by the way the crowd was dancing around me.
Clearly experts at a festival like CMJ, Yanchak said this year was their fourth time playing CMJ. "CMJ was the first music festival outside Canada we'd ever played, but that was back in 2000," she says. "Compared to other festivals, the shows at CMJ are more like regular gigs rather than big, organized showcases. Our gig was kind of like that . . . part of CMJ but more like our own gig."
The Dears have been around for quite some time. When asked about their longevity, Yanchak says, "It's really a spirit that lives on. We've had over a dozen musicians come and go, then some return, and leave again." She continued. "The Dears really is about the moment, about an incarnation, and connecting with musicians that are able to channel the music. As long as the inspiration keeps coming to Murray [Lightburn], The Dears will remain."
As for her favorite song to perform, Yanchak says, "It really depends on the moment, the vibe in the room and on stage. I can't predict that until the show is happening. But I've been loving playing all the songs in our set."
Many have talked of their latest album as being a major transformation from their previous releases, but Yanchak says every release is an evolution and progression to another place. "Missiles definitely falls into this pattern of growth. That said, there's something innocent and brutally honest about this album that was missing on Gang of Losers. Just a journey, like life, choosing a path and trying along the way to stay true to who you are."
As for her best advice to festivalgoers, Yanchak suggested planning ahead, but leaving room for spontaneity. "Festivals are always about heading out to see one thing, bumping randomly into people and ending up somewhere else. Also don't just go see all the familiar bands. It's always fun to discover something new, so be open to that."
And I have to agree. I discovered the Dears Thursday night and it definitely was a transcendent experience to a genre of music I probably wouldn't have covered if not for CMJ. So, thank you, CMJ, and thanks to the Dears.
You can read this post originally posted on the CMJ blog here.
Special thanks to Wendy Hu for the amazing photos!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Feel free to check out my preview on Virginia-based band Ki: Theory here. You can also read my coverage of two panels I attended: Web 2.0, Music 2.0, and the Blog Factor, which the title pretty must sums up and Gadgets for Tweakheads and the next big thing, again pretty self-explanatory.
I still have one review to finish up as well as transcribe my interview with Theresa Andersson so be on the lookout for those. I'll be interviewing Hellogoodbye and Ace Enders next week as well, so if you have any questions for either feel free to email me or leave some comments! Should be a great week! Also, don't forget not to make any plans for next Saturday and come out to Maxwell's for an awesome night of music! I'll post another banner this weekend to remind you. Thanks for reading!
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Drawing laughs from the audience by prefacing each song throughout the night, Froberg ended each song introduction saying, "and I wrote a song about that because I'm a singer-songwriter," with Napoleon Dynamite-esque glasses and a voice that recalls Ben Folds. The crowd loved his never-ending sarcasm and anxiously waited on the edge of their seats to hear what he said next.
When listening to the lyrics behind each song, a more serious side of Froberg was revealed while playing piano and acoustic guitar. Before beginning "She Is Becoming Her Mother Again" he said, "Sometimes when I call my mother and father I find myself sounding exactly like them. Even though you love your parents, you don't want to become them . . . but you do."
Before playing last song of the night, "God's Highway," accompanied by Theresa Andersson and Ane Brun, Froeberg informed the audience that after the show, "I'm going to sit downstairs in the basement and sniff some glue" to which the crowd erupted in laughter. Definitely the comical performer, Froeberg kept the audience attentive throughout the somewhat more mellow songs in his set.
One-woman band Theresa Andersson took the stage at 9 p.m. playing a 50-minute set. With the stage covered in a white shag rug, Andersson could be seen utilizing two loop pedals with her bare feet throughout her entire performance, syncing up each instrument she played — guitar, drums, violin, dulcimer, tambourine and chimes.
"I'm not going to talk. I'm just going to make some noise," Andersson told the packed room. "Welcome to my kitchen by the way. You're getting the whole show tonight."
Definitely not your average performance, Andersson explained her set as being somewhat like a dance. "After a while I started thinking of it as a dance, that's when it really became fun." She even took dance lessons from a friend in preparation for her live show. "I actually ended up falling a lot in the beginning. I'll be standing on one leg and stretching the other one out, skip steps or jump. At one point I'll have to stand on my heels and hit two pedals at the same time, so I couldn't keep my balance at first," she says.
Spending about a month putting together her live show, Andersson said it took a while to really get the music in her body. "I would make a lot of mistakes in the beginning. I would be really nervous, but maybe those mistakes were something that [only] I recognized," she says. "To me, I've reached the point where it's really a musical instrument. It's just another way of playing songs and playing music."
Andersson's soulful vocals and friendly onstage banter made for an enjoyable set. At times, the audience seemed to be intently and silently watching her performance to which she said, "Don't be shy. There's just one of me and so many of you out there."
Before her show, Andersson explained that she wants the audience to "really feel that they're in the music and not worry so much about, 'Oh my God is she going to fall or step on the wrong pedal?'" She seemed to get this across by her second song of the night and current YouTube sensation, "Na Na Na." A fun and upbeat song, Andersson had the audience relaxed and at ease watching her dance around the stage all while playing multiple instruments.
One of Andersson's favorites to play live, "Birds Fly Away," is a New Orleans-inspired song which samples Smokey Johnson and has that soulful '60s feel, reminiscent of the Supremes. Definitely the crowd favorite, the audience was clapping along with Andersson throughout most of the song and screams could be heard towards the end of her performance.
"Each song is unique and they all have a specific role in the set," Andersson says. "I really wanted to bring the listener on a journey when they listen to the set. I always think its best when you hear it from beginning to end because it goes into different spectrums of the musical language I use."
And Wednesday night she definitely brought the audience on a unique journey. Ending her set to thunderous applause and a standing ovation, Theresa Andersson is one artist who stands out from the crowd.
You can read this post originally on the CMJ blog here. Check out the video of Theresa Andersson's song "Birds Fly Away" below, performed live at home in her kitchen.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Taking the stage shortly before 10:30 p.m., the Cool Kids brought their tight hooks and bass-heavy beats to the stage with "Delivery Man." Cameras were flashing and every hand was in the air having anxiously anticipated their entrance, for many, since 8 p.m.
Ingersoll and Reed got the crowd energized during their set, which featured their infamous hit "Black Mags" as well as "Box of Rocks." Even Mickey Factz joined the duo throughout their set, jumping around the stage for "I Rock."
The night was full of surprises as one fan threw Reed a box of cereal to which he eventually emptied into the crowd. Later, fans jumped onstage for a dance-off contest to win copies of their album in addition to jokes being told, the best comedian winning an XBox game. Their second year at CMJ, the Cool Kids continue to bring something new to the table. I can't help but wonder what it will be next year.
While most in attendance were anxiously awaiting the Cool Kids performance, Toronto natives the Carps, kept the crowd energized.
For a two-piece, bassist Neil White and singer/drummer Jahmal Tonge held their own. An unexpected pairing with Tonge providing smooth and soulful vocals, at times reminiscent to that of Usher, and White cartwheeling onstage during their performance, the Carps' vigor was impressive.
The Carps played a half-hour set comprised of eight songs, including a solid cover of Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison" as well as their interpretive song, "Compton to Scarboro," which Tonge explained being about gun violence. Tonge captivated the audience's attention by telling the story of a man robbing a convenient store as he and White acted out the parts, White convincingly falling to the ground dead as the song progressed.
The lights engulfed Tonge and White onstage in an eerie glow as their catchy R&B beats got the crowd clapping along during their set. While the crowd seemed uninterested at times, Tonge evoked attention with his constant, and sometimes curious, onstage banter. "Listen to your parent's kids, sex is overrated," he said at one point, later asking the crowd, "Do you love us yet? I just need your love."
With the upcoming election on everyone's mind, even at CMJ, the band made their stance known. "Make sure you go out and vote Barack," Tonge said. "We just elected another conservative in Canada and I would hate to see that here."
Cartwheeling onstage before their last song, the Carps ended their set with just as much energy as when they began. While it's often hard being part of such a diverse festival line-up, the Carps worked the stage as if they were the headliners and who knows, in a few years they just might be.
To read the original Cool Kids review posted on the official CMJ blog click here. To read the Carps review, click here.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
I put together a brief outline of things I've learned this week for my amusement on my commute throughout the week. Be sure to keep checking out the CMJ blog, as I've been compiling all my reviews and interviews and much more should be posted this week!
Top 5 CMJ Lessons:
1. Don't assume that just because three fellow CMJ badge holders are on the same subway as you that you're going to the same place.
I know, stupid right? But it was my first time covering CMJ and I didn't realize just how huge CMJ was. So, when I saw three guys from a college radio station with their CMJ badges and welcome bags, I assumed we were all going to the same meet and greet and asked if I could tag along. Little did I know until we got off the subway stop at Delancey that we were going to two entirely different places. Not a huge deal, just jumped back on the subway and got off the stop I was supposed to get off at originally.
2. People like to talk, whether it be a band, a cab driver or managers.
This seems obvious. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. I pride myself in being a good listener, and being a journalist this often comes in handy. One of my professors used to always say, "Don't be afraid of silence." Sometimes during an interview, if you pause for a bit after the interviewee answers a question he will continue his thought or will bring you to an entirely different direction that you never considered. This is often the best part of an interview and you'll find out something you never thought to ask. It's so easy to go through the motions during an interview by asking the same questions over and over again. But, every so often you'll make a connection and the interviewee will bring out an insecurity they may have that lets you get to know him a little better and see where he's coming from. This is priceless.
3. You can sleep when you're dead.
This has often been my catch phrase throughout college when roommates wondered if and when I ever slept. Sleep is important of course, but not always realistic when covering a festival like CMJ. Some drink coffee or Redbull to keep them awake, I haven't found the best caffeine fix for myself yet, still working on that.
4. Make sure you're allowed to video tape at a venue BEFORE you get there.
I had no clue that some venues make you sign wavers or release forms to film. They basically want to make sure you're not selling your interview or sound check footage and making money off it. I never thought of even looking into this before an interview since for the most part I do audio interviews. You have to learn the hard way sometimes. Now I know for next time.
5. Go with the flow.
There is absolutely no way you can possibly see every band you want at a festival like CMJ. By leaving room for the unexpected you may get lucky and discover the next great band at a showcase when you originally only planned on seeing the first band. Who knows, lightning could strike.
Be sure to check back on the blog throughout the week for show reviews and interviews. You can check out my video interview and sound check with Matt Duke below! Special thanks to John Hendrickson for filming and editing this for the UWire CMJ blog.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
While their music has been compared to that of the Beach Boys and even the Beatles, the band brought their A-game to their CMJ Showcase and didn't disappoint, as they had many in attendance dancing along and singing the words to each song. Drummer Mike Mignano likes to describe their music as "a mint-scented breath of fresh air." While he admits it's a corny catch phrase, realistically he says "it's a gritty blend of harmony-driven pop," which I couldn't agree more.
Playing a 35-minute set, the Canon Logic's performance featured a solid mix of songs from their last EP, "The White Balloon," as well as songs that can be heard on their full-length album due out early next year. Their first CMJ performance, frontman Tim Kiely feels the set was unbelievable. "The fans were great. We had a blast; we always have a blast onstage. We felt pretty tight." Guitarist Josh Greenfield agrees. "I could only see the first two rows of people. It wasn't until the very end that I went up front and realized there was a pretty packed house, so that was cool."
The five-piece band's energy was apparent onstage as the three guitarists and bass player jumped around the stage throughout their performance, enticing and encouraging the crowd to do the same. Their set included fan favorite "Avenue of Criminals" as well as "I've Been Sleeping With Your Best Friend," a song off their latest EP, the concept clearly chronicled within the title. "Delia" is one song where their '60s pop flavor is showcased. With strong guitar, keyboard and drum accompaniment the band seemingly takes the audience back in time.
A diverse and devote fanbase, anyone from parents to grandparents to even Greenfield's high school-aged sister enjoy their performances and frequent shows. "I think we have a wide range of fans. We like to try and bring everybody together," Greenfield says. "We're trying to pull from so many different influences. We really like the classic rock stuff and we also like what's going on now. I think we have a good balance of the two, which allows everyone to really get into the music."
Surpassing the band's CMJ expectations, the early Tuesday set time didn't seem to deter concertgoers. "It's pretty cool to know that we can get a good group of people out at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night and they're acting like its 11 p.m. on a Saturday; dancing, screaming, singing along. It was a good feeling," says Mignano.
With hundreds of bands performing throughout the week, the Canon Logic continues to set themselves apart. "I think something that we do, which is the toughest aspect of our music, is having five people singing while also being able to handle the rock attitude," Kiely says. "I don't see many bands do it. I don't know if I've seen a band do it and pull it off well. We're really confident in what we've got going and I think that's what separates us. And we've got great songs."
If one thing is certain, a Canon Logic show won't leave you bored. "You can expect a little bit of everything; some dancing, some singing along. We have a lot of songs that our fans come to shows to see and they've been learning the lyrics; they're really easy to sing along to so they really enjoy getting into the songs and dancing and also head banging and rocking out," Greenfield says.
Be sure to check out the Canon Logic's MySpace and Blog for more info about their next record and catch their next show Nov. 8 at Maxwell's in Hoboken! Check back in few days for more of my interview with the guys of the Canon Logic.
To read this live review, originally posted on the UWire click here.
Friday, October 24, 2008
I also asked Theresa if she gets stage fright anymore since she's been performing for quite a few years to which she pretty much said no. However, after having to restart her first song of the night she jokingly mentioned our interview by saying, "I really screwed this one up. I had an interview earlier and was asked if I get nervous at these shows anymore and I said, 'No, I got it.' You're getting the whole show tonight." You never really think of how much one interview can have an impact on a performer since they have tons of interviews lined up throughout the week at a festival like CMJ. So, for my future interviews I think I'm going to stop asking the "stage fright" question, just in case. What do you think?
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
It was the middle of October and I already was planning to see Switchfoot at Hammerstein Ballroom with a bunch of friends, so I decided to contact their management and see what I could do. Surprisingly, within 24 hours of emailing I received a response back and was able to set up an interview with the band. Lucky for me, MTV was just launching it's own concert blog so I began covering shows and writing up my reviews for them as well as my own blog. Everything spiraled from there and soon I was doing phone interviews with bands on my lunch breaks, getting CD's sent to me in the mail on a weekly — sometimes daily — basis and the rest, as they say, is history.
This past year alone I've conquered some of my life goals, strange enough as it may seem. I lived my own version of Almost Famous when I went on tour with Army of Me for a few tour dates. That experience was like no other and I was able to meet and interview not only each member of Army of Me, but another up-and-coming band, Lights Resolve as well as interview Jeph from The Used on their tour bus. Looking back, never in a million years would I have dreamed my blog would have taken off to where it is today and there is still so much I want to do with it within the next year!
Of course my goal is to eventually have a full-time writing gig somewhere in New York, or maybe California. Hey, even Nashville sounds pretty nice at this point too, who knows. But for now, I couldn't be happier. I've been introduced to some amazing bands this past year and hope you all have enjoyed my interviews and reviews of each of them. While I can cross off going on tour with a band on my life "to-do" list, I hope that in the near future I can have many more amazing touring experiences and be able to vividly capture and chronicle each tale on this blog. I hope you continue to read and look forward to the new bands I feature each week. Thanks for all of your support and continuous comments throughout the past year. Keep them coming!
And, for being such loyal readers, I want to invite you all out to Maxwell's in Hoboken on November 8th. I'm planning a concert with three amazingly talented bands that I think you should all spend some time getting to know — Josh Charles, Joey DeGraw and The Canon Logic. Check them out on MySpace and hope to see you Nov. 8th!
Monday, October 20, 2008
Below are my latest two posts on the CMJ blog. Feel free to read and leave comments! You can read snippets from my interview with The Duke Spirit here and for my preview on UK-based band Passenger, click here. I'm hoping to catch each of these acts throughout the week, so stay tuned for my concert reviews.
Tomorrow I'll be celebrating the CMJ kickoff with a bunch of the UWire bloggers and heading to three (hopefully? if I make it to each) performances. We'll see how it goes. Tomorrow is another celebration — You Sing, I Write's one-year anniversary! But more on that tomorrow. Back to work!
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I'll be covering the CMJ Festival for the UWire. You can check out the UWire blog here. Two of my previews have already been posted so feel free to read my previews on Josh Charles here and Lights Resolve here. While I can't make any promises on how much I'll be updating my own blog this week, check out the UWire blog for the most recent posts on what's going down at the festival!
And for all of you that have no clue what CMJ stands for (College Music Journal) or what the heck I'm talking about, check out Time Out New York's appropriately titled article, CMJ for dummies.
Here's a few of the questions answered in the article that everyone has been asking me:
What the hell is CMJ?
Before there was alt rock, there was so-called college (i.e., -radio) rock, a scene that nurtured R.E.M. and countless other future stars of the postpunk, pregrunge era. The initial intent of both CMJ and the NYC fest was to clue the music industry in to the burgeoning impact of college radio. “It began purely as a business convention and accidentally turned into a very large music festival for fans,” says Haber.
Hundreds of bands and thousands of hangers-on descend upon local venues over a period of five days. Panels and a film fest add to the general mayhem.
How do I get into the shows?
You can buy a supposedly all-access badge, wait in line for hours and still get turned away. Haber looks at it this way: “As much as people want to see the big acts, go under the hood a little bit and look at the clubs that you really can get into.”
If you think that a show will be mobbed, it probably will be; it’s best to map out a few alternatives. (See “If at first you don’t succeed…,” page 143, for our suggestions.)
Do I need one of those $495 badges?
Few shows are badge-only. Each club determines its admissions ratio of badge holders and walk-up or advance-ticket customers. “We go to the clubs, try to assess the previous year’s failures and come up with a matrix which makes sense for them,” says Haber.
It’s your money.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
I'm always excited to find out about good bands from New Jersey, being a Jersey girl myself. This past Friday I saw emo/indie rock band The Early November from Hammonton, put on a show at Rutgers and they really blew me away. After the concert I chatted with lead singer Ace Enders about the concept of the band's new three-disc album and how fans should listen to it with headphones on because "it takes you to a different place."
Where do you get inspiration for your music?
I try and reach just from everyday normal life; from watching people and how they react to different things.
You played at Rutgers before right?
Yeah. We played in a classroom one time. It was a little weird. We had a chalk board behind us.
How did you feel seeing your video on MTV the first time?
It was definitely a weird feeling the first time. But it faded pretty quickly when we heard that they were taking it off MTV.
How did you get the idea for the story line on your current album?
It didn't come out exactly how I wanted it to come out. It was supposed to be not just songs, but more for your imagination. It would follow a whole story. It's not perfect, but it came out a bit.
November 20, 2006
Friday, October 17, 2008
You can listen to "Make You Crazy" here. Be sure to pick up a copy of Brett's album in stores next week and come back to read my interview with him from yesterday!
Thursday, October 16, 2008
To listen to Derick talk about the history of the band, their music and latest album, Fire, click here.
To learn more about the music writing process, being ranked No. 14 as CCM's top 100 artists and a very personal, in-depth description of his favorite song on the album, listen here.
Check back in the upcoming weeks for the audio interview with Matthew Perryman Jones as well as Joshua Radin and Brett Dennen!
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Singer-Songwriters Jason Reeves and Tyrone Wells Entertain Crowd with Intimate Tales and Stellar Performances in Hoboken
Jason Reeves took the stage shortly after 7 p.m. with ballad, “Pretty Eyes.” Since the release of his album, The Magnificent Adventures of Heartache (and other frightening tales…) last month, I’ve been awaiting his local performance and he didn’t disappoint. His album has that acoustic singer-songwriter feel, but in person the musical accompaniment is much richer. Between acoustic, electric and bass guitars, as well as keyboard and light percussion features, the backing band only accentuated Reeves’ vocals during their nearly 40-minute set. Additionally, his onstage banter with the audience brought each song to life.
Before introducing second song of the set, “You In A Song,” Reeves told the crowd, “Don’t be afraid to sing along if you know the words. And if you don’t, make up the words, I won’t be able to tell.” Definitely livelier than the album version, Reeves’ band had many in attendance bobbing their heads and singing along throughout his set.
(To listen to "You In A Song, "for Windows click here, for Quicktime click here.)
“Anybody here from New Hampshire?” Reeves asked the room to which one fan yelled, “I’m from Toronto, Canada!” Before playing, “New Hampshire,” Reeves joked with the fan, saying, “Toronto is pretend New Hampshire in this next song.” With intriguing keyboard effects, the song was solid and had many intently watching the stage throughout additional drum and guitar interludes. Highlight of the song was when Reeves alternated from acoustic to electric guitar, awing the crowd with his prowess as he played. Screams could be heard from the audience and I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what it was like seeing John Mayer play before he began selling out stadiums. Definitely an artist to watch; I’m curious to see where Jason Reeves will be in a few years.
The rest of his set was solid and a bit reminiscent to story-time as Reeves told the crowd the meaning behind his next few heartbreaking songs. “This song is about my two least favorite words ever, especially when they’re put in a sentence together,” Reeves said. “If you’re breaking up with someone, whatever you do, don’t tell them that you want to be just friends because that’s bullshit,” he continued before introducing next track, aptly titled, “Just Friends.” Seeing him perform this song live, the listener felt the tension and anger more than listening to the album could ever get across.
Soon after, Jason and his band began singing the first few verses of “Reaching” a capella before his two band members exited the stage, leaving him to end the night onstage solo. His voice blending well with his guitar, Reeves walked away from the microphone to sing a few lines to the crowd. An intimate gesture, the room grew silent to hear him clearly.
Introducing last song of the night, “Gasoline,” Reeves told the crowd, “I’m not a mean and evil person, but sometimes people do something so messed up that you can’t help but get them back. For me, the best way to get back was to write a song about them,” he said before continuing his tale. “When you sleep with your boyfriend’s best friend, I don’t understand what else you’re supposed to do,” he said to a shocked crowd. “This is the super mellow version of the song. It’s no less angry.” Playing onstage alone, you could hear the angst in Reeves’ lyrics and guitar accompaniment. Most definitely the edgiest song of the night, words like, “She’s covering my heart with gasoline/I’m going down much faster than anything I’ve ever seen/Gasoline/She’s a heartless bitch, telling me to keep my mouth clean” told the story in itself.
Tyrone Wells followed Reeves’ set and proved to be just as good a storyteller. Wells’ nearly hour-long set impressed, as he had many in attendance singing along to fan favorites including, “Falling,” “Dream Like New York” and “Baby Don’t You Change.” In addition, Wells surprised the crowd by beat boxing. “Hoboken is bringing the old school out in me,” he told the crowd. “That was a turn table in case you were wondering.”
Reeves re-entered the stage, accompanying Wells on “Give Me One Reason,” a song they co-wrote together. By the end of the night, Maxwell’s was buzzing with excitement as lucky concertgoers stuck around to meet and chat with each artist. On tour until the end of the month, Reeves and Wells show no signs of slowing down.
Watch the video of Jason and Tyrone playing "Give Me One Reason" below.
You can read this review on Filter also. Be sure to check out both Jason Reeves and Tyrone Wells on MySpace. If you haven't yet, you can read my interview with Jason from a few months ago here.
Special thanks to Deana Koulosousas for the great live shots of the show Saturday night!
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Be sure to check out his MySpace, and if you like what you hear, find the widget on his page for a free download of his last album, Punches In the Dark. Read below for the in-depth interview and check back in a few days for the full MP3 of my interview with Matthew.
Swallow the Sea is your third full-length album. Did you go into the studio having a certain concept for the album?
About six months prior to the full recording of this record, me and the producer Neilson Hubbard had gone into the studio and recorded some stuff. We don’t really do demos anymore, it’s more do a recording of how you want it to sound. We did some recordings a while ago, like “Save You,” “Without a Clue” and “Don’t Fall in Love” that are on the record that we actually recorded a while before we started the full-on record. I think those were just recordings that started the idea to do a record.
Eventually, in March this year, we came back in and we did a live recording. What made it different for the rest of the record is that we came in and we recorded live. We got the whole band together and rented out a different studio where we could do a live recording. Our vision was to make a bigger sounding record, so the studio we used and doing it live gave it that bigger sound and also gave it a little more energy in the performance. That was kind of the vision in terms of finishing the record, which was really to go with something that has a bigger sound and a little more energetic than what we have done before.
“Without a Clue” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I was just curious to the inspiration behind it.
I wrote that song with Kate York. I had the song idea coming in, I just wanted to have her come in and hash out some lyrics with me. We just came onto this theme of a nostalgic love song. Something that was good at a certain point in time and ended at some point. We fell on that theme as we were writing; it kept coming up a lot. A lot of times when I write, I don’t really come with an idea; usually the melody and there are words that start coming out with that melody. That one in particular ended up having that nostalgic feel to it. We just hashed out these lyrics and the idea of this old love story that was good when it was there. That’s the general idea of the song and we just worked it out.
This album you’ve co-written a lot. How is writing a song vs. co-writing a song different for you?
I used to always write on my own and after a while, especially when I moved to Nashville, I started doing some co-writing with people. At first I didn’t like it a whole lot, it felt too invasive. Then, I started getting to know certain people that became friends of mine that weren’t just songwriting partners; we knew each other, we had similar perspectives. I started writing with folks that I knew and I trusted and it actually became enjoyable to me because I’d have ideas; I’d come with a melody idea or song structure and lyrical fragments. It’s been really cool to bounce back ideas creatively and to see how other people approach an idea or a song. So, in a lot of ways it’s been a real growth experience for me, writing with other people and being able to be challenged creatively.
The way I do it, especially when Neilson and I write, I’ll come in with . . . I usually keep recordings of melodies and song ideas, structures, with little lyric ideas. I’ll come in and start singing these melodies and he’ll have a pad and pen and just start writing down everything. I’ll just start singing and I won’t think about what I’m singing at all, even if it’s complete nonsense. Kind of a stream of consciousness exercise. I just start singing and my main goal is not to think about it, just go and start singing out words even if they make no sense. He’ll write down things that he’s hearing; certain words that come out a lot or themes. Then we find the theme of the song, which is exploring it through the stream of consciousness way and he’s just transcribing words. And then we come on to the feelings of a song, or what I like to call it, the guts of the song. At a certain point, we have to start giving it some shape and really start putting some meat on it.
The process is mostly to try and find the guts and the feeling of the song so the song has an emotion to it; something from a deeper level. I used to think, is that writing approach less honest because you’re just not thinking about it? I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s more honest to do it that way because you’re not thinking about it, you’re not imposing any ideals or any ideas on a song that don’t need to be there. You just let the song do what it’s supposed to do. It’s just been a fun way to discover a new way to write songs.
On the surface you’re just aware of your daily life and the stuff you have to do here and there. But, on a deeper level and a subconscious level, there’s way more going on. It’s funny because after I’ve finished a song, even after I’ve recorded it and put out a record, I’ll listen to a song months afterward and go, “Oh, that song makes perfect sense now. I know what that’s about now because I’ve processed certain things and I’m more into my conscious life.”
Tell me about working with Neilson Hubbard. I know you worked with him on your last album, so obviously things have to be going well.
Yeah. I love working with Neilson. I knew some of his work before the first time we worked together and I really, really liked it. I loved his approach. As I got to know him, we’re both about the same age so we come from the same school of music which is the late 80s. Bands like Pixies, old U2, Echo and the Bunnymen, all those late 80’s mod-rock bands. It’s where both of us developed our musical tastes so we connect really well there. We both love the in motive, moody, vibey, yet edgy rock kind of stuff that’s really reminiscent of that era. We just connected really well. He’s definitely more of a minimalist in his production; he likes to be really sparse. I like that about him, but I tend to lean more towards the grandiose and a little overboard, so I think when we work together there’s a balance that happens and I think it’s a really cool balance of how we both approach stuff.
Your song “Save You” has been getting a lot of play on television shows like “Private Practice” and “Kyle XY.” How did that come about? Do you feel it’s helped your career in getting your name out there?
It came about a while ago. A guy in Birmingham who works at a radio show, Scott Register has a show called “Reg’s Coffee House.” When [last record] Throwing Punches came out, he really championed that record and really pushed my stuff to a lot of people. We recorded “Save You” because some people had heard it live and they were interested in the song, so we decided to record it a while ago. Actually, the version on the CD is the first recording we did. He gave it to a licensing agent in L.A., who heard it. According to what she told me, she said it wasn’t even done with the first verse and she wanted to work with me and work that song. Literally, within two weeks she had the placement on “Kyle XY.” It was really cool to see how that had an immediate connection with people. It’s gotten my music into a different audience because my music has never really found a way into a younger audience; the later teens, early 20s mind span. Mostly college-aged to mid-30s tend to be the typical audience. It’s gotten to a younger audience and it’s been cool to see how it’s connected with people of that age group and it’s definitely helped get my music out into a lot more people, so it’s been a great thing.
How do you feel the Nashville music scene is different from other parts of the country?
I guess, in a way it’s [just] different from other cities. I was in Atlanta before I moved to Nashville, and there was actually a really good music scene going on in Atlanta. But, it’s a much bigger city, and the music scene was not really part of the city as much as it is in Nashville. You think of Nashville and you think of Music City. Most people just think of country music. When I first moved here, there was this really cool, underground group of artists and songwriters that were amazing and inspiring. This town, even in the last three years, has just beefed up its artist roster.
People are moving here from other cities, even from New York and L.A. because the music scene definitely has more of a communal sense to it, people really support each other. In a way, I guess it’s different from other cities in that there’s definitely more of a concentration of artists here and the community is definitely really big and supportive. Not to say it doesn’t exist in other cities, I’m sure it does, but I think it’s a little more prevalent here. I think it’s helped me too, in a sense, because it’s a really inspiring city to live in. Especially right now, we just had a festival last week called “Next Big Nashville.” It’s just all Nashville artists — hundreds of bands and singer-songwriters and artists from Nashville. It’s amazing. I went to a bunch of shows and every show I went to I was blown away. I was just blown away by living in Nashville. This is just a great city to live in right now because there’s so much great music coming out of Nashville. It’s just inspiring I think.
Tell me about your “10 out of Tenn” showcase.
Trent Dabbs, a singer-songwriter in town, he and his wife went on vacation together, just to give you a bit of the story. They put their travel compilation disc together and as they were driving down, Trent turns to his wife and goes, “This is amazing, because our compilation disc is all our friends. We just put all our friends on this compilation disc.” So he got the idea, “Why don’t we put an official compilation recording together of all these artists and do a tour and bring it around the country?” Really, in a sense, bring a part of what’s happening in Nashville around the country in different parts and different cities. We did a tour about a month ago, went up to the north and southeast, played with Butterfly Boucher, Griffin House, Katie Herzig and Tyler James and a bunch of folks from the neighborhood here. We’re all friends and we all see each other and we just kind of hopped on the bus and did a show together, which was pretty awesome. We took Willie Nelson’s old touring bus from the 80s. It was pretty amazing, actually. It was really cool, but really bumpy and really hard to sleep in, but it was still really cool.
You’re an independent artist and a huge help is MySpace and the Internet on getting your music out. Do you feel it’s easier to be an independent artist nowadays or are you eventually looking for that record contract?
It’s definitely easier to be an independent artist today. One, with MySpace and a lot of mediums that exist out there for people to get their music in front of people and be heard and also collect a fan base and know where people are and know how to find people and play in certain towns. Its way easier now, because even 10 years ago when I was playing, we were doing hard mail outs to people to addresses. To put shows together we were literally physically mailing stuff to people and snail mail. That’s unheard of now. It was lot harder to get word out to people back in the day, especially before the Internet really developed a lot of these sites. Yes, it’s way easier to be independent now.
It’s actually more desirable. Even with TV placements these supervisors are looking specifically for independent artists, artists that don’t have the red tape of a big record deal and publishing. It’s a lot easier for them to work with independent artists so they’re looking for independent artists specifically. It works out best for both worlds, because they don’t have to deal with as much read tape and the independent artist is able to have this medium to get their music out to a broader audience. It’s a really great time to be independent. It’s not to say I wouldn’t sign a record label deal because there are definitely advantages to what they can do to sustain your career in a lot of ways. There’s another side to where they can completely ruin your career, so there is no hard way to go about it, it depends what’s right. I’m not apposed to it, if it ever happens, if it’s the right deal.
You’ve been getting amazing reviews, being compared to John Lennon and Leonard Cohen. How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
It’s funny, because I’ve read those reviews with those comparisons which blow me away. Because, if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think I’m anywhere . . . the whole, it just doesn’t even compare to me. Leonard Cohen and John Lennon are these freaking icons. I think what they’re saying by citing those artists is that there is more of a poetic element to my writing. I think that’s why they get the Leonard Cohen comparison, because a lot of his writing was more poetic. Even John Lennon had that element to his writing, more impressionistic, more poetic. Lyrically, I think I lean more that way; more impressionistic, more poetic. All music to some extent is poetry, but in the sense of singing it as poetry, if that makes any sense.
I would describe my music as mood-rock. It’s got a little rock in it, but it’s got more mood to it. If I were to sum it up in a way to describe it, it would be mood-rock. Because it’s not emo by any means, but it does have an emotional element to it, it’s driven by that. I know that sounds weird, because all music has an emotional element to some extent, but I think some music has more of an achy, mood to it, that I think I go for in my music.
Your song, “Motherless Child” is strikingly different then the rest of the album. You definitely feel the mood with that. What’s the story behind that song?
That song is an, old, old spiritual, from hundreds of years ago, so I can’t take the credit for writing that song. I improved a couple lines in the song. I reinterpreted that song. I did it live a few times and it had this real achy mood thing to it, but it also had this aggression to it, which is how I interpreted the song a little bit. And I wanted it to have some aggression to it. We created that song in a way that it had both elements, where it had this haunted feeling to it and at the same time, this anger to it. That’s one of my favorite tracks on the record. A lot of people say it’s so different from the rest of the record, and I know that it is and that’s why we put it in the middle because it sort of peaks the record a little bit. I was able to sing out more of an emotional, what was going on in me emotionally at the time. In the record, I feel like that really captured at least me, where I was at, at the time. I really liked how it turned out.
You can watch a live performance of "Motherless Child" below. Be sure to check back in a few days for the full audio of this interview.
For more on Matthew, visit his MySpace.
Monday, October 13, 2008
It's funny, actually, from the countless hours I spent night editing during my four years working at the newspaper, I knew he was in a band, but didn't know the name of it or that he played the drums. But, I couldn't be happier turning the page and reading the raving review of their latest album, The '59 Sound. This is what Rolling Stone contributing editor, Christian Hoard had to say about the album:
"The '59 Sound [is] the New Jersey quartet's excellent second album, a collection of tuneful, passionately sung stories about working-class folks and young romance . . . Though the Gaslight Anthem are signed to the SoCal punk label SideOneDummy and they regularly open for mohawked acts, their sound is only sort of punk: It's more like a supercharged version of early Bruce records or a no-frills take on the Replacements."
Many reviews have been comparing the Jersey-based band to fellow Jersey native, Bruce Springsteen. While I definitely hear the influence of The Boss, there's something more. Their music is catchy and you can listen to each story within every song while rocking out to the solid drum beat and guitar accompaniment. Like Hoard wrote, it has that punk feel to it, but also a mix of that classic Springsteen sound. In fact, it's hard to pin the Gaslight Anthem down to one genre, which for a band is often a good thing. Watch their video below for "The '59 Sound" and see for yourself.
If you like what you heard, be sure to check them out on MySpace and let me know what you think!
For more of the Rolling Stone feature and video on the Gaslight Anthem, click here.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
“Mean Old Mister Gravity” is the most unique sounding song on the EP. Seemingly taking the listener back in time, the song has that classic feel with saxophone and flute interludes. A bit jazzy, the piano features throughout the song are strong, but never overpowering the light flute and edgy saxophone sound. Kitchen’s voice blends well in this song, and the constant repetition of lyrics, “Mean old mister gravity/Don’t bring me down, down, down” and “I want that weightless feeling again” fit well into the song.
Underground segues nicely to soft ballad, “Find Our Way.” With a light drum beat and guitar strumming, the song draws the listener into Kitchen’s heartfelt lyrics. He opens the song singing, “If you came to me, I wouldn’t hide/Set aside my pride and stand beside you/It may never be the way it used to be/And it’ll take some time, but surely we will find our way.” “You Know That I Will” is the next ballad showcased on the album with a bit of an edgier sound and strong guitar interludes. With lyrics, “If I can make time stand still/You know that I will” you feel the longing in Kitchen’s vocals.
“Remembering” picks up the pace from the previous two ballads and ends Underground on a high note. Having been writing and performing for over three decades, Kitchen is showing no signs of slowing down and this EP only demonstrates his versatility. Whether he’s pouring out his emotions in “You Know That I Will” or shredding throughout rock-hard guitar interludes, each track peaks the listener’s attention.
You can also read this review on ReviewYou.com.
Be sure to check out David Kitchen on MySpace and listen to songs featured on the EP I wrote about above.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Ben Folds Energizes Crowd at State Theatre
By Annie Reuter and Brent Johnson
Targum Staff Writers
Strolling on stage, Ben Folds walked right to his piano and started pounding out the opening chords to "Bastard."
The crowd's energy had already been building, as the more than 1,400 in attendance at the State Theatre Thursday night waited over half an hour for Folds and his band to begin playing.
Folds harnessed that energy with flair, standing over his piano stool like a modern day Jerry Lee Lewis as he thumped through his first few songs of his set. The alt-pop singer-songwriter drew plenty of excitement from the packed crowd, which was much larger than estimated ticket sales showed last week.
Only 1,000 tickets were sold in the first week, but they eventually picked up, said Rich Klumb, a School of Engineering sophomore and member of the Rutgers College Program Council, which organized the event — the first time it had ever hosted a concert at the 1,800-seat New Brunswick theater.
The crowd shouted and sang along for most of the 20-song, nearly two-hour show. The set list included full-band performances of five songs from his latest album, Songs For Silverman, in addition to older songs like "Annie Waits," "Zak and Sara," "Where's Summer B?" and set closer "Philosophy."
There was also a short set featuring Folds playing solo at his piano. During this segment, he played his biggest hit, the melancholic "Brick," as well as more obscure numbers like "Lullabye" and "Don't Change Your Plans" — all of which were from his days as the frontman of the 1990s alternative trio Ben Folds Five.
Folds got the audience laughing during his witty between-song banter, which included stories about how he once delivered wine to an old woman blasting porn music in her house or how he recently fell off the stage in Japan. "I look down, and I'm bleeding all over the piano," said Folds, after explaining why there was tape marking the end of the stage Thursday night.
The most laughs came when Folds played his version of Dr. Dre's graphic, "Bitches Ain't Shit," complete with a lovely melody and some dramatic acting from him and his backing band. "This is a song I wrote with Dr. Dre," Folds told the crowd. "I put some pretty chords to the lyrics."
Folds also coaxed some audience participation, as he taught the crowd how to mimic the horn parts to "Army" and how to sing backing vocals to "Not The Same." During the latter number, he ended the song by standing up from his piano, conducting the crowd as it sang the final few bars.
Folds closed the encore with perennial fan favorite "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces," during which most of the audience stood up and bounced along to the perky melody and sarcastic lyrics.
While many audience members were from Rutgers, some traveled from out of state to see Folds perform. Rob Martino falls into the latter category. Traveling from Temple University, Thursday's concert was the fifth time Martino has seen Folds live. "Once again he didn't let me down," he said. "My favorite part was when he played by himself. That's when he used the crowd to be his band."
"There are only a few people in the rain I would wait for, and he is one of them," said Janaki Theivakumaran, a Rutgers College sophomore. "He made sure we all got autographs. I felt bad though because he was leaving for another city the next morning, so it was great that he stayed to make sure we got autographs."
Theivakurmaran said she enjoed the concert as well. "It was one of the best concerts I have ever been to," she said. "I thought [Songs For Silverman] was amazing, but he's even better live. He really knows how to get the audience pumped up and excited."
Friday, October 10, 2008
This week's song is my favorite track from his recent album. You can listen to it here. Be sure to check out his MySpace for tour dates and more music.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Antony and the Johnsons - out this week 10/7
I recently received a copy of Antony and the Johnsons' EP — a five-song piano-filled disc of deep, emotional ballads. At first listen, the EP gives off an incredibly relaxing and soothing feel. But, when listening more closely to the lyrics the perception is quite different. Called an EP of "political- and eco-minded songs" by Rolling Stone, I couldn't agree more.
Ray LaMontagne - 10/14
Gossip in the Grain
You heard him and song, "You Are the Best Thing" from my previous "Song of the Week" post two weeks ago and from what I've heard on his MySpace and other reviews, Gossip in the Grain is an album to definitely give a listen. LaMontagne has that classic singer-songwriter feel, but offers the listener something unique as well. I haven't been able to stop playing "You Are the Best Thing" over the past few weeks and if this is any indication as to how his album sounds, LaMontagne will be the talk of the town pretty soon.
Brett Dennen - 10/21
Hope for the Hopeless
I was lucky enough to catch Brett Dennen's performance this summer on John Mayer's tour and he blew me away. Brett has such a skill for songwriting and aptly gets the message in his lyrics across to the listener, not always an easy task for a musician. Check out a live performance of his first single, "Make You Go Crazy" — which features Fela Kuti on the album — below. Stay tuned for his music video for the song with Mandy Moore within the upcoming weeks.
Fall Out Boy - 11/4
Folie a Deux
The kings of long song titles are back with their fifth studio album on Election Day. Avid advocates for Obama, while the disc apparently has no politically charged songs, if it's anything like their last album, Infinity on High, Fall Out Boy are sure to surprise and make every die-hard FOB fan content.
Switchfoot - 11/4
The Best Yet
It's surprising that Switchfoot doesn't have a "best of" album yet, being that they've released six albums and have been touring for the better part of the last 10 years. However, this November 'Foot cans can look forward to The Best Yet, which features 18 hit singles including "This Is Home" from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian movie soundtrack as well as radio hits "Meant To Live" and "Dare You to Move." In addition to the songs, the deluxe edition will feature 14 videos which includes MTV hits as well as rare, never before released videos.
To listen to a stream of "This Is Home" for Windows, click here.
For QuickTime, click here.
Taylor Swift - 11/11
Taylor Swift has become a personal favorite of mine as of late. Maybe it's my desire to move to Nashville and cover more country artists and emerging musicians. Whether you like country or not, you can't deny her crossover power between genres. Not only is she a respected country artist, but pop fans love her as well. Her first single off the album, "Love Story" is that perfect story-book tale of a Romeo and Juliet romance. Down to the appropriately catchy banjo accompaniment, the song is full of that hopeless romantic vibe that draws many music fans to her. Check it out on YouTube.
All-American Rejects - 11/18
When the World Comes Down
I featured their first single, "Gives You Hell" last week on the blog and it's undeniably catchy. A bit more of a mature sound than their previous two albums, AAR have grown up and their musicianship and solid guitar riffs can be heard throughout. This album is one I'm personally looking forward to and planning on picking up for myself. Check out "Gives You Hell" below.
David Cook - 11/18
I recently read an article which reported that Cook will be working with frontman Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace for his release expected in late November. I caught Maida's performance a few months ago at the Mercury Lounge and I can only imagine the creativity he will bring to Cook's debut since winning American Idol.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
While some may recognize Jones from his song, “Save You,” featured on popular television shows “Private Practice” and “Kyle XY,” his set Thursday night proved that he is a versatile performer and one that is sure to be around for some time. Not quite a newcomer, Jones’ third full-length album has been receiving much praise and from the audience’s response, he has been leaving a lasting impression on concertgoers.
Thursday’s set opened with Jones alone on guitar for “Feels Like Letting Go” before the rest of his band joined in. At times, his vocals vaguely reminded me of a mellow version of Dave Grohl, maybe what the Foo Fighters would sound like if their music was made up entirely of acoustic ballads.
Singer-songwriter Kate York joined Jones onstage for a few numbers throughout the night, including “Without a Clue” – a song York and Jones co-wrote together. A bit faster than “Feels Like Letting Go,” their voices blended well together. “Sinking Wishes,” from his last album, Throwing Punches In the Dark, Jones explained as, “A song about chasing after somebody.” With lyrics like, “I’m taking a chance to find what’s real inside/I’m taking a chance this time on you/I’ve got nothing to lose” he got his point across.
“When It Falls Apart,” a catchy song co-written with musician Katie Herzig who performed later that night, showcased Jones’ deeper vocals. The keyboard accompaniment and light drumming only strengthened the performance. Watch a performance of "When It Falls Apart" below.
Possibly the most diverse song of the night was “Motherless Child,” a spiritual song from hundreds of years ago, reinterpreted by Jones. “This is a really old song that I fell in love with and it found a place within me,” he told the crowd. Definitely an edgier song than his previous within the set, “Motherless Child” is a song that has the power to change the temperature in the room. One of his favorite tracks on his latest record, Jones has described the song as having a certain “haunted feeling and anger” to it. Extremely well structured, the song showcases a perfect blend between the dark instrumental interludes and Jones’ somber lyrics. Check out a video for "Motherless Child" below to see for yourself.
“Refuge” was another song that resonated with the crowd. From his last record, Jones said the song was written about a time in his life “when I felt like I was going crazy.” Alternating from acoustic to electric guitar, you could feel the confusion in Jones U2-esque vocals and musical makeup. Closing the night with infamous song, “Save You,” Jones informed fans that while he had to leave for Nashville right after the show, he’ll be back to New York in December. From the response of the audience, I think they’ll be back to see him too.
Be sure to check back next Tuesday for my Q&A with Matthew Perryman Jones!
Monday, October 6, 2008
"Sooner or Later" is a catchy song right off the bat. Being a writer myself, I tend to analyze each lyric throughout every song I listen to, and this song in particular is so deep in meaning. Almost a guideline to life, Tolcher's song strikes a chord. Lyrics like, "Some things you have to learn them all on your own/And you can't rely on anybody else/Or the point of view of a source unknown/If it feels good and it sounds nice/Then it's your choice so don't doubt yourself/Don't even think twice" intrigue the listener. When he sings, "We only want what's best for you/That's why we tell you what to do/And nevermind if nothing makes sense/'Cause it all works out in the end" you believe him. Visit his site to take a listen.
"Bad Habits" segues nicely from "Sooner or Later." A moving ballad with a piano intro that features Tolcher's deep vocals and light guitar strumming, "Bad Habits" grabs the listener's attention. Another striking song is"No One Above," a seductive, almost jazzy song with a smooth drum and guitar beat.
Slightly reminiscent to "Sooner or Later" is cleverly titled, "Mission Responsible." You can check out a live performance for "Mission Responsible" below.
For more on Michael, be sure to visit his MySpace.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
In addition, another place you can search for past MP3 interviews from You Sing, I Write is on The Hype Machine. It's a pretty cool site that automatically updates MP3's from my blog as well as hundreds of other blogs onto their site so members can search for the latest interviews and songs invading the Web.
I'll also be writing for ReviewYou.com — a service that provides album reviews for musicians who typically aren't guaranteed their reviews in music magazines or Web sites due to lack of space or other reasons. (You can check out a photo of me and a brief bio featured on the site here). I'll probably add these reviews to my blog as well, just so you can check out some artists you might not have come across yet.
Feel free to keep e-mailing me/leaving comments about bands I should cover or review. While it sometimes takes me a while to get back to everyone, I plan to write a new blog each day and cover everything! Also, I'm trying to revamp the blog a bit. If you haven't noticed, I added all my interviews on the sidebar of the page so you can easily click on many of the artists featured on the blog. I'm hoping to add another section that features upcoming concerts in the New York/New Jersey area I think you'd be interested in. Still working on that, but if you're interested in a free show tomorrow night, I'll be at the Blender Theater covering my previous "Artist of the Week," Josh Charles. Admittance is free before 8 p.m. Check out Josh's MySpace for more information.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
John Mayer Goes Out With Alicia Keys — At Sold-Out New York Show
Singer shows sold-out crowd there's a lot more to him than pop.
By Annie Reuter
NEW YORK — With a guest appearance from Alicia Keys, sing-alongs galore and an intimate two-song acoustic performance on a small stage in the middle of the crowd, John Mayer's sold-out performance Wednesday night delivered everything a headlining spot at Madison Square Garden should.
After a strong opening set from Mat Kearney, Mayer's show began with the venue darkened before the sounds of Mayer's guitar drowned out the screams from younger members of the audience. A blue spotlight revealed him as he began "Belief" solo before being joined by the rest of his band.
As the 90-minute set (consisting primarily of songs from his latest LP, Continuum) progressed, he joked with the crowd often, introducing "I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)" by saying, "In America, you're allowed to be an a--hole." While it seemed at first to be a political reference, he instead described a first date and surprised the crowd by saying, "This song is telling you I'm the type of person that will do you wrong." With lyrics like "If my past is any sign of your future/ You should be warned before I let you inside," Mayer got the point across.
The crowd went wild for songs like "Waiting on the World to Change" and "Stop This Train," but longtime fans made their presence heard on older songs like "Bigger Than My Body," "No Such Thing" and "Why Georgia."
But even though Mayer, who won Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album at the Grammys last month (see "Timberlake Rocks; Blige Weeps; Chicks, Chilis Clean Up At Grammys"), has a pop audience many would envy (need we mention Jessica Simpson?), the crowd at the Garden showed that his efforts to diversify musically have worked.
Sure, there were plenty of teeny-boppers in attendance, but there were also parents with their children, couples young and old, businesspeople coming from work, and high-school and college students. And Mayer made sure that his show contained something for everyone: His solos and improvisations with the two guitarists in his band pleased the guitar geeks, and he dipped into bluesy John Mayer Trio mode for "I Don't Need No Doctor" and "I'm Gonna Find Another You."
And throughout the show, Mayer constantly let those fans know just how much he appreciates them. "I'm not mature enough to be the kind of person to thank you for how much this means to me," he said after "Waiting on the World to Change." And then later, "This [success] doesn't exist without you. I'm not sure I deserve it, but I'm going to keep writing and playing and doing whatever I have to do."
Perhaps taking a tip from the Rolling Stones, for his encore Mayer performed two acoustic songs on a small stage set up in the middle of the venue, singing "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and "Stop This Train" just feet away from surprised fans, bringing the intimacy of a small club to the nearly 20,000-capacity venue.
Mayer left the small stage at around 10:30, but had one more trick up his sleeve. Returning to the main stage, he played "Vultures" — saying at the end, "This is the best night I've ever had" — before beginning his last song of the evening, "Gravity."
As the song seemed to be ending, female vocals were heard — and just as cries of "Who is it?" became nearly as loud as the music, out came Alicia Keys, who took over the song's vocals while Mayer accompanied her on his guitar. "Keep me where the light is," she crooned, as the song ended with the spotlights shining brightly all over her and Mayer.