Posts Tagged 'Union Hall'

A mellow, melodic evening

Horse Feathers + Lay Low – Union Hall – May 3

On the small, dimly lit Union Hall stage, Icelandic singer-songwriter Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir of Lay Low picked up her guitar without uttering a word and began to tune it. Unaware of her presence, the crowd continued to talk until Lovísa began speaking in hushed tones. The room gradually fell quiet.

By blending together elements of pop, country, and blues, Lovísa sounds something like a folked-out lounge singer with a more modest and mellow disposition. She doesn’t always hit all the right notes on her guitar, but when she makes a slight mistake, she quietly chuckles to herself and all is forgiven. Her slightly disjoined English and Icelandic accent are also quite a disarming combo. I hope you understand me, she admitted between songs. Sometimes I say things without thinking and I forget words.

Lay Low (Photo Baldur Kristjans)

Though Lovísa usually plays with a backing band, she is solo for her US tour. At one point, she hummed another melody as she played her acoustic guitar and later sheepishly explained, I feel a little bit weird when I do that – the hmmmm hmmm – but this is my first time touring solo. I’m trying to be a band with my mouth.

Lovísa concluded her short set with eponymous track from her 2006 debut album Please Don’t Hate Me, and given her charming personality, it seems she has little to worry about.

The line-up of Portland’s Horse Feathers may have changed since the release of their second album, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that from watching them perform. The four-piece band seems quite at home on stage and with each other – even though it no longer consists of siblings Peter and Heather Broderick.

Horse Feathers (Photo Tarina Westlund)

It’s hard to pick which element of Horse Feathers is more pleasant – the vocals or the instrumentation. Just when you really start swooning at the carefully orchestrated string arrangements or the wonders of the saw, all the instruments fall out, leaving the vocals suddenly exposed, and the effect is breath-taking. Frontman Justin Ringle’s gentle but earnest voice seems to contain healing powers, and the addition of his band mates (Nathan Crocket, Catherine Odell, and Sam Cooper) on backing vocals is stunning – especially when all four sing at once.

The band played a number of songs from their new album, in addition to some older ones like the lovely”Finch on Saturday” from their debut album, Words Are Dead. The set was relatively short, but they did come back for an encore – a haunting cover of the song “Orphan Girl” by the American singer-songwriter Gillian Welch.

Hopefully, if you missed the music last night, you got a chance to check them out at the Mercury Lounge tonight instead.


Union Hall now hosts house parties, apparently*

Inlets + Sparrow House + A Weather – Union Hall – April 23

In a strange turn of events, the band I was most familiar with at Friday night’s show was the first opener, A Weather. I fell in love with Cove, their debut album back when I drove in the spring of 2008. That CD didn’t leave my car’s stereo for a couple of months. Portland’s A Weather makes  sweet bedroom pop that is neither overly cute nor annoyingly upbeat. The vocals during the show were a bit low in the mix, but generally speaking, singers Aaron Gerber and Sarah Winchester compliment each other wonderfully.

A Weather

Their music is straight-forward. You’ve got a guitar, bass, and drum kit. Nothing more, nothing less. But the simplicity is refreshing and lovely, and it really gives the vocals a chance to shine. (1) For the most part, they stuck to songs from their new album, Everyday Balloons, but they also played “Spiders, Snakes” from Cove.

As the small, underground room filled up, the din from the crowd got more and more distracting. Union Hall is an official bar and concert venue, but on Friday night, it felt more like I was attending a house show. Since the evening was celebrating the record release day for Inlets’ Sebastian Krueger asked some friends of his who were not on the bill to play a few songs between sets.

I hadn’t thought I knew a thing about the second opener, Sparrow House, but before the show even started, I saw front man Jared Van Fleet hanging out in the lounge area, and he struck me as vaguely familiar. I often play the guess-which-people-in-the-audience-are-in-one-of-the-bands game, but for whatever reason, that possibility didn’t even cross my mind. I was too busy trying to place him in some other scenario. A party maybe? Friend of a friend? Then he walked on stage. But as it turns out, I was more familiar with Sparrow House as I had thought. Scrolling through my i Tunes, I realized that I had two songs from an early EP, and each had a timestamp of 2008 for the last play date. Crazy. (Apparently, Jared Van Fleet is also the guitarist/keyboardist in Voxtrot.)

Jared Van Fleet of Sparrow House (Photo Emily Daniels)

It’s a shame that the room was so loud. It was so difficult to hear Sparrow House, that I have little to write about in the way of a review. From what I heard of it (and the sound guy did eventually turn up the mic), Jared had a lovely voice. It just wasn’t suited to the rowdy environment. At one point during the set, the girl behind me turned to her friend and said, Wow this is the beautiful kind of song you put at the end of an album. Not something you play on a Friday night. And that’s pretty much how it went. Jared struggled to be heard over the din and eventually invited a friend to join him on bass. After a curt signal from the tech guy, Jared played a ‘short one’ and turned the stage over to another one of Sebastian’s friends.

When Inlets walked onto the stage, Sebastian had the foresight to tell everyone to ‘shut up,’ which helped quiet the crowd to some extent. Early in the set, they launched into “In Which I, Robert,” one of the more upbeat songs in their catalog. Thanks in large part to its emphasis  on mesmerizing woodwind melodies, Inlets’ long-awaited debut album Inter Arbiter is atmospheric, rich, and a bit spooky. Sebastian has a distinctive voice that is reminiscent of Zac Pennington’s (of Parenthetical Girls). This is definitely an artist that will be worth keeping track of.   I just hope that next time, he invites all his mellow friends. (2)

Sebastian Krueger of Inlets

Be sure to check out the Take-Away show Inlets did a while back. Below is half of that show, “Roots and Sidewalks,” performed in a park outside of Manhattan.

*Ok. So not really.

(1) Apparently, Aaron and Sarah are dating, which could explain the natural chemistry between their voices.

(2) That said, I did turn around at one point to find Beirut’s Zach Condon standing about a foot away, so no complaints there.

"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being