The Lumineers’ Intimate Performance at D.A.R. Constitution Hall by Juli Sproules

Upon walking into the auditorium that is D.A.R. Constitution Hall and seeing, among the requisite instruments & equipment, old thrift store Pinterest-worthy bureaus and a coat & hat stand (complete with fedora) I thought "Please, no."  The very white and couple-y crowd did nothing to assuage my fears. But after the forgettable (and obligingly awkward) opening act, out came the entirely lovable Lumineers. 

 Opening with the catchy "Submarines," they jumped right in & started playing some of the songs of their self-titled debut from April of last year - currently Number 2 on the Billboard 200, and still climbing after 43 weeks on the chart.  Fedora firmly on head, Wesley Schultz plays an energetic & engaging guitar, with Jeremiah Fraites on drums and the talented multi-instrumentalist Neyla Pekarek on cello, mandolin and a host of other instruments.  

 Two songs in, they asked the audience to put away their phones and "be here now," which was a lovely idea until they walked into the audience - climbing through the boxes, over the entryways - to sing their hit "Ho Hey" a cappella from the back of the room. Now, I love a good a cappella audience sing-a-long as much as the next girl, but good luck getting those camera phones down when you're right next to us. Still, A for effort. The real genius of this move - usually reserved for the end of sets or the encore - was it got everybody up, standing & clapping early on; quite a feat at this usually demure seated venue.

 The energy level remained accordingly high for the rest of the show - most of the audience standing, clapping & dancing (guilty) as they played through the rest of their set. Even through the ballads "Dead Sea" and the best version of "Slow It Down" I've heard yet, there was dancing, shouting & audience interaction. They even re-played "Ho Hey" (milk that single, guys) with as much fervor as the first time, and the audience adored it.

 The Lumineers have found the sweet spot between the sounding-like-the-album and the 20-minute-improvisational-solo approaches to live music. You can still sing along to your favorites, but it's also new & interesting & did he just change "electric" to "acoustic" in that song?

 Even in a large stadium-like venue, it feels like you're watching a great house show (I get the coat stand & all it's just a bit ... literal).  If they can get that much energy from a D.A.R. crowd, their show at Merriweather Post Pavillion July 26 is a definite must-see.

AA Bondy plays his Southern Gothic Folk on H Street by Juli Sproules

Listening to AA Bondy – live or otherwise – is nothing if not intense; and his third solo album, Believers, is no exception.  His solo debut, American Hearts, is the very best of Americana – honest & bare, a wandering man with a guitar & a harmonica; and 2009’s When the Devil’s Loose is similar, allowing for more instrumentation, with a little more maturity & complexity.  Believers is different.  It has a quieter, more ethereal quality.  Maybe it’s the recent trip I took to Scotland, but this album reminds me of the Highlands – desolate, lonely, even a bit grim – but strikingly beautiful.  He still has elements of the Americana-folk sound of his previous releases, but he seems to be bringing it forward, evolving it into his own unique style.  A storyteller reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor’s Southern Gothic mystique, he brings a sense of sadness and truth to this album.

Bondy’s live show on Wednesday, Nov 16 at Rock & Roll Hotel was both serious and intense.  Starting with the first track on his new album, “The Heart Is Willing”, his deep, velvet voice hums along to the forward march of the beat.  Images of water and tv noise projected onto the stage, washing over him, his band, and the backdrop behind them throughout the show.  It seemed especially right for this –his languid, almost sinister songs have a dreamlike quality: the feeling of waking up from a strange dream, or swimming in the ocean at night.  He sang with passion, eyes closed, brow furrowed; at one point (just after the line, “find another horse to break,” incidentally), galloping almost in slow motion in a circle like a little boy on a toy horse.

This show was filled with charged quiet moments, instruments humming, gently pulling you along – which was captivating.  But unfortunately, the thumping from the consistently awful DJ for the dance party upstairs kept coming through the floor – it was a real shame.  He even asked from the stage at one point if there was anything that could be done about it, and sadly, they did nothing.  And when there was a feedback issue during the encore, he first tried to keep going, but eventually had to stop. He was clearly furious, and yelled something un-publishable about “computers”.  Everyone stood silent – it was an awkward moment to be sure – and after a beat or two, the audience cheered in support, which he seemed sheepishly grateful for.  It was uncomfortable, but it was frustrating too – having a thumping DJ and feedback issues breaks the spell of what the band is weaving on stage, especially this one.

I can’t wait to see him again – but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s at a venue that respects their artists enough to turn down the dance party.

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James Blake Mesmerizes at 9:30 Club by Juli Sproules

James Blake’s self-titled debut album, released in February, has been on fairly constant rotation for me this year, so I went into his concert at 9:30 Club Sunday with high expectations.  I admit I was concerned about how his lush, layered and precise album would translate to a live performance; still, I had been spreading the gospel of James Blake to anyone who would listen all year, so I was giddy with anticipation.  And he did not disappoint - he captivated.

The 23-year old London native is tall & slim, topped by a messy mop of hair.  His performance was bookended by solo songs, swelling into more contemporary, modulated sounds before coming back home.  He opened with “Heartbreak,” a meditative, bluesy, tender song that showcases Blake’s unique and haunting vocals.  Joined on stage by his band, he dove into some songs from his album – “I Never Learnt to Share” was quite the crowd pleaser, each new loop eliciting a cheer from the crowd; but the highlight was his performance of “CMYK,” from his 2010 EP of the same name.  The richly layered loops built up slowly, and I found myself mesmerized by the ever-more complicated drumming happening on stage; by Blake’s badge, swinging back & forth in counterbalance to his movements; and by the electronic-analog balance that came in like waves, constantly shifting from one to the other.

This is the genius of his live performance – the balance between analog and digital.  The album is meditative and precise, but his live performance is messier, in the best sort of way.  It is human, and he is able to connect to the audience this way, using live sampling of his voice & every instrument on stage, having his process out on display for the audience to engage in.  Here is a musician who knows the pleasure of negative space – of a pregnant pause, or a hiss – and his delivery is clearly influenced by that. He manages to blend soulful, expressive content with innovative production to create a thoughtful, honest performance that resonates.

This article was published on the Farraguter website. Click Here to access the post