The final evening of MusicNOW 2015 brought things back to the festival’s ancestral home at Memorial Hall. The windows in the balcony were open on a perfect spring night, and a large crowd (including Symphony conductor Louis Langrée) gathered outside before the doors opened. If the show wasn’t sold out, it was awfully close, abetted by the large fan bases of the night’s two marquee acts.
Check out photos from the night HERE!
Parisian folk-pop singer Mina Tindle got things started just after 7:30 with “Je Sais,” the opening track from her new album Parades. She was utterly enchanting. Canadian songwriter Leslie Feist is the best point of reference, both musically and vocally, and over half of the songs were written in her native French. Tindle’s songs bubble with energy, carried by bouncy bass lines and bright synthesizers. In a just world, the soaring “I Command” and its sunny hook would be elevated to Song of the Summer status. Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly joined her midway through the set fire a gorgeous run through "Plein Nord," and returned for her encore, the dreamy “L’Astrakan.”
In my festival preview last week, I positioned Perfume Genius’s appearance as “a dark horse contender for the best set of the weekend.” Perhaps I set it up as a self-fulfilling prophecy, but by any metric this was a heartstopping hour of music. Onstage, Mike Hadreas is part Mick Jagger, part Patti Smith, part Thin White Duke, part Ziggy Stardust, with an unexpected bit of Craig Finn peppered in. He stalks the stage, catlike, putting forward a front that’s at once menacing, leering, anxious, and vulnerable. At times, he would mouth the next line to himself once or twice before snarling it out. The queer icon appeared in a long black T-shirt and fishnets, saying he “kind of struggled with whether to wear pants tonight or not. Who knows about tomorrow.” He swooped onstage to the Alan Vega gloom of “My Body,” unleashed his piercing howl on “Grid,” and nailed the lofty high notes on “Fool.”
On the quieter songs, Memorial Hall felt almost uncomfortably intimate, with all but the footlights darkened. His fragile tenor echoed through the room on the devastating “Learning” (which, as Dessner pointed out in his introduction, has been a staple at National shows for the last year and a half) as he sat side-by-side with his bandmate Al on the piano bench. He strutted over the booming underbelly of the anthemic “Queen,” before returning for the hushed Put Your Back N 2 It outtake “Katie.” The standing ovation failed to bring him back for another encore, but he had given us more than enough. This was a dramatic, masterful, and vital show.
Originally, The Lone Bellow was billed under Perfume Genius, but they flipped about a week before the festival. Perhaps Bryce Dessner thought the festival should end on a more upbeat note, and I can’t fault him for that; the group certainly delivered. “What a beautiful situation this is,” mused lead singer Zach Williams as he looked around at his Beaux-Arts surroundings following opener “Then Came the Morning.” Williams is a powerhouse frontman in his own right, howling (bellowing, if you will) like a revival preacher in his three-piece suit. The core trio of Williams, bassist and mandolin player Kanene Pipkin, and guitarist Brian Elmquest intricately meld their voices , backed up by bassist Jason Pipkin (Kanene’s husband) and drummer Justin Glasgow. The band's sound doesn't neatly fit into any one subgenre classification. They're happy to draw liberally on gospel, bluegrass, soul, and folk traditions and create their own quintessentially American sound, an eclecticism perfectly displayed with the bluesy pop of "Cold As it Is."
It's almost become cliche for an artist to perform off-mic, but given the venue it was more than appropriate. The group spent over a quarter of their set unamplified, letting their belted harmonies ricochet through the hall, and they didn't stick to the low-key fare, either. Singalong closer "Teach Me To Know" saw Williams and Pipkin standing on vacated seats in the front row, leading the entire crowd in the loud refrain of "Carried away! Carried away!" A rousing and fitting end to a magical week of music. MusicNOW 2016's Symphony dates have already been announced, for the weekend of March 18th. We'll just have to wait and see what other surprises they have in store.
To Carry Many Small Things
Plein Nord (with Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly)
Pas Les Saisons
Taranta (With Bryce Dessner)
L’Astrakan (With Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly)
Take Me Home
Body’s In Trouble (Mary Margaret O’Hara cover)
The Lone Bellow:
Then Came the Morning
Tree to Grow
Take My Love
Two Sides of Lonely (unamplified)
Watch Over Us (unamplified)
Call to War
You Never Need Nobody
Cold As It Is
Heaven Don’t Call Me Home
The One You Should’ve Let Go
Teach Me to Know