Tag Archives: The Birchmere

We Get Out – Foy Vance, Lee Rogers, Gareth Dunlop at the Birchmere, 5.10.22

[First, some background…] Not sure if it’s ongoing Covid concerns, growing older, or a low-grade depressive ennui, but it’s so much easier these days to just stay home. I planned to attend a picnic/graduation celebration yesterday but when a storm came up, I was content – no, delighted! – to blow it off, lay on the bed near an open window and listen to the wind and rain as it rumbled through my neighborhood. A lovely sensory experience, better than a 3D movie!

As much as I love live music, the concerts I’ve attended since 2022* began are hardly a handful, a trifecta of Couldn’t Miss Personal Favorites – Harry Styles, Courtney Barnett, and Billie Eilish. So, when a personable publicist (redundant?) whom I’ve only ever dealt with through email called me – on the actual phone! – last Monday to invite me to see one of her artists the following night, my first inclination was another “no, thanks.”

[*CORRECTION: I saw Harry last year. Guess I’ve been so consumed with all the recent hubbub, and the Coachella shows, I lost track of time. Love will do that to you.]

Not entirely superfluous shot of King Harry; he’s one of the few concerts I’ve seen in the past year. And get this – Harry follows Foy Vance on Twitter!

But it was such a nice chat, commiserating with the PR gal over how hard it is to get writing assignments (me) or coverage (her) these days. She didn’t care that all I might offer is this humble blog, nor did I promise to write anything at all. However sweet the offer, I believe that most last-minute show invitations are to fill seats so the artist knows that an effort was made.

I said I’d check out the guy’s music and get back to her.  Then my husband reminded me that I don’t get many of these invitations since my columns at Washington Post and Examiner/AXS got cancelled. So I asked my plus-one buddy, Sally, a high-school English teacher/poet/guitarist/pianist, who tells me whether the playing meets an actual musician’s standards, if she was interested in a spontaneous musical night out. She visited the artist’s website and came back: “Listened and really liked!”

This man is not as scary as he looks.

[And now we get to the music. Finally. I hear you sigh.] A singer/songwriter from the Northern Ireland town of Carrickfergus (gotta love those names) Lee Rogers just released his third official release, Gameblood. The album cover is deceptive, all brooding menace with blood red accents. But while he’s a big bear of a man, rich with tattoos (he’s a talented ink artist as well) there’s a gentle giant aspect to his music, the songs tender as well as tough. The album reflects folk influences like John Martyn and Bon Iver, with a touch of Keb Mo’s bluesy Americana. Though I didn’t catch it on the studio set, Roger’s live sound also gave me a Van Morrison vibe (without the messy anti-vaccine crazy). My favorite tune live, “Silent Song,” has a catchy chorus (“The road to heaven runs through hell”) and a stylish animated video that I can share here.

The album was produced in Belfast by another Irish singer/songwriter, Gareth Dunlop, and has a track featuring vocals from yet one more, Foy Vance, a veteran musician who earned new attention when Ed Sheeran endorsed him. (Not to be confused with Vance Joy, the guy who sings “the closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that I’ve ever seen” on the track “Riptide.”)

Gareth Dunlop opened the night.

These Irishmen are longtime pals and collaborators, so an American tour featuring the trio was a logical adventure. Dunlop opened solo with a very brief set, but returned later to play support in Vance’s band and sing lead on a song during the encore. Rogers also retuned at show’s end to duet with Vance on a song they recorded for Gameblood, “Barefoot in the Basement.” The bonhomie was obvious.

And so, thanks to the pretty persuasion of my new publicist pal, I got my lazy butt out the door and had a most pleasant evening. I’m not going to say it had the wild energy of a stadium show, nor the thrill of seeing a long-followed favorite in the flesh, but not every concert has to be a Major Event. With three accomplished talents onstage, I had the musical equivalent of a relaxing drive with pros at the wheel, and the sound scenery was great all the way.

Confession: I knew little about Foy Vance before this show, but he’s an Irish legend.

Since I’m not sure where you, my dear reader, actually live, here’s the rest of the tour schedule, if you care to check it out:
5/18 – JAMES K. POLK THEATER, NASHVILLE TN
5/20 –  THE CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER, MINNEAPOLIS, MN
5/21 –  ATHENAEUM THEATRE, CHICAGO, IL
5/26 –  NEPTUNE THEATRE, SEATTLE, WA
5/27 –  ALADDIN THEATRE, PORTLAND, OR
5/31 –  REGENT THEATRE, LOS ANGELES, CA

Final Note:  I’m fully aware that issues of true substance abound these days, and a music blog is a trivial, maybe even self-indulgent, pursuit. But in these times of war, racial violence, and attacks on female autonomy, music is my happy place, and I hope we can enjoy a few moments together to celebrate it before we return to the fight.

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We Get Out: Matt Nathanson, 2.19.19

So, after a bit of a winter drought, it was time again for live music.

Doctor Daughter (Emma with the PhD) and I bought tix last year for Matt Nathanson‘s recently launched solo acoustic tour, when our favorite singer/songwriter/funny guy first announced he’d be going on the road to support his excellent 2018 album, Sings His Sad Heart. I rarely buy concert tickets far in advance but my girl and I have attended Matt’s shows, together or separately, about a dozen times each, and we knew this date would sell out pronto, so we jumped.

With two other Nathansonians in tow (Carrie, another 10+ show attendee, and Elizabeth, a bit of a newbie at only 4 shows), we got to The Birchmere in time to find a sweet spot to the right of the stage, with good sight lines. (That’s why all the pics have the same angle.) The venue’s flex stage is a smaller space than Nathanson has played in some time. He’s sold out the 9:30 Club for double-date runs, and tix for this date disappeared in a day, so it’s safe to say that the place was packed with genuine fans. Why, then, would I call this the worst audience I’ve ever shared a Matt show with?

Because a few boneheads mistook the intimacy of the space as an invitation for random chatter with the man on stage. And while much of the joy of his shows is the spontaneous way Matt goes off on tangents between songs (he’s got the speedy wit of a great improv comic) he’s there for a concert, not a conversation, people! Matt tease-scolded the interrupters in his usual easy-going way but the message didn’t land. Except for the funny way a Snow Day announcement rippled through the crowd, leaving Matt confused (“Are you all students? Teachers?” It actually mean that government offices and many ancillary workers get a holiday), the unwanted give-and-take was wearying to both the player and his listeners.

Maybe it’s the presence of the giant wheel, which Matt spins to add an element of surprise to the set list (about two-thirds planned; the remainder selected by chance), but general unruliness seems to be an ongoing problem on the current tour. Matt often tweets the day after a show, full of enthusiasm for the night before. No such message appeared after the DC show, and his Twitter feed a few nights later mentioned another show – or was it two? – ruined by “a few obnoxious humans” (RT from 2.24) and “entitled, drunk audience members” (Matt’s own Tweet, from 2.25). This from paying patrons who no doubt consider themselves “fans.” One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl, but a few can tarnish an otherwise sterling night. Sorry, Matt. You deserve better.

But you’ll never leave a Matt Nathanson show without a smile on your face, and last Tuesday was no exception. We heard a great selection of tunes old (my personal favorite, “Answering Machine,” showed up in a spin) and new (“Used to Be” is a great one from the new LP), a few cool covers (The Smiths’ “Girlfriend in a Coma” – oh yeah) and even a brand new ditty we’ll call “8-Track Tape” that he made up on the spot while ruminating about outdated technology. You can see the full list of songs at setlist.fm.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen Matt Nathanson play. The first was February, 2004, so this Birchmere night was “our” 15th year together (I’ll call it the Vinyl Anniversary). And I was lucky to have my camera at some past shows, so if you want More Matt, here are a few links to pics and text memories:

9:30 Club, 2011

Sixth and I Synagogue, 2008

Tysons Corner Plaza (free show), 2018

And Matt was kind enough to respond to a request for a contribution for my set list site, sending a great souvenir from a Houston, TX show in 2006.

It’s been an exhausting day, watching the Cohen testimony, worrying about the decline of our democracy, and waiting for a return to true American greatness (ITMFA), so I’m calling this post, however ragged and much delayed, done! As ever, thanks for stopping by. And here’s one more shot from the Birchmere, as a ‘post-credits’ treat…

It’s like he’s looking right at us.

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