This time around, we only had to wait a day to see Girlyman again. I’m glad to say we made it.
While Gravity Lounge is a small, intimate place, Birchmere is cavernous. The other difference is that Gravity Lounge is concert style seating (everyone facing the stage) and Birchmere is dining table style (most people have a shoulder facing the stage and need to twist to have a full stage view).
Birchmere can seat 650 people. Given the economic hard times, and the generic fact that Girlyman’s style of music (Alt-Folk/Pop) doesn’t typically draw gigantic crowds (though it most definitely should!), I was marginally worried that the place might feel a bit empty.
I should have had more faith (after all, they sold out the Barns at Wolftrap in March, a nearby venue that seats 400!). We sat right up against the stage, so it was a little hard to gauge an accurate count (though I tried). My best guess is that there were at least 350 people there, possibly 400+. That generated the same feel as a sold out house, because there are many tables that are way off to the sides, and the entire center section (the bulk) had very few empty seats.
The show had a similar feel to the night before. However, as I expected (and was delighted to be correct), Girlyman mixed it up enough to keep it fresh even for the few of us (possibly just Lois and me?) that saw them on consecutive nights. The set list had at least three additions to it, and the one song that was on the set list the night before, but wasn’t played (James Dean) was done last night.
In addition, the requests that they played last night were different, so there were at least a half dozen different numbers. The tuning songs were different too, but there were actually fewer of them both nights than usual. I ascribe that to there being more new material, which might not require as many drastic re-tunings of the guitars/banjo/mandolin as the older stuff. Here’s a photo of a tuning song:
The music was fantastic (the acoustics at the Birchmere are wonderful). Their banter (and general stage presence) was perfect as well. In fact, playing to a significantly larger crowd can make the banter more difficult, since comedic tastes can be that much more varied, and there’s a slight reduction in intimacy. That wasn’t a problem, as the crowd universally and uniformly ate up every bit of the act, which fed the energy on the stage.
It’s hard (if not impossible) to describe a song. Lois really wants me try, so here goes.
One of their newer songs is Everything’s Easy (it’s on their new/current Live CD). It’s a great song in general, but also very special. Each of them sings one verse alone. Nate starts, then Ty sings a different melody. Doris sings a dramatically different melody (alone as well, the first time). Then, after blending together a bit, and starting to build in volume (and passion), they sing simultaneously (in harmony), but each singing their own verse.
Not only are they singing wildly different words, they are singing entirely different tunes (as opposed to singing in a normal harmony, where you are mostly just offset from the main melody). It’s stunning. The focus that they each need to maintain is incredible, but we shouldn’t care if it’s hard for them, we should care whether the result is sonically gorgeous. It is, in every way. Bravo!
If you’re interested in checking it out, go to their MySpace page, and the second song (at least as of this writing) is Everything’s Easy. Enjoy!
When they got to the request section (they do that at every show), I yelled (twice, at the top of my lungs) Hold It All At Bay. I was only five feet away from Doris, perhaps 10 from Ty, so I know they heard me. Unfortunately, lots of other people yelled out lots of other song requests, and I don’t think I heard any other requests for Hold It All At Bay.
I love so many of their songs so much, that it somehow feels silly to say “My favorite song of theirs is Hold It All At Bay”. And yet, I can say it with no caveat or hesitation. While there may be two dozen close seconds, from the first second I heard that song, it remains the most played song on my iPod, and it moves me (lyrically and musically) each and every time I listen to it.
I hadn’t heard them sing it live in a while, and I fully expected to miss out again last night. While I might never be sure, I want to believe that they chose to give me a personal gift when they decided to play Hold It All At Bay for the first request. They couldn’t have played it better! Thank you Girlyman!
Since they knew that they didn’t pick the most called for song, they were kind enough (and connected enough with their audience) to select another song for a request after that as well.
They closed the show with Joyful Sign. When they returned for the encore (as the result of a standing ovation) they played Nate’s new song (the one I didn’t know the title of in yesterday’s post). I think he didn’t mention the title last night either, but he did give the same cute intro. Lois and I are calling the song “My Eyes Get Misty” until we hear differently. They skipped the typical Girlyman Benediction song (which I love) and went straight to their stock closing number Son Of A Preacher Man (which they nail, every time!).
In total, they were on stage for 110 minutes. This was fantastic. It wasn’t just the extra five minutes over the night before, but they also came on later due to the opening act (different from the night before) being on stage significantly longer.
The opening act last night was Chelsea Lee (we didn’t know there would be one until we showed up). She came out at 7:30pm accompanied by Todd Wright on guitar (and harmony). Chelsea has a stunning voice, truly extraordinary. Todd is a good rhythm guitarist, whose voice complements Chelsea’s on their harmonies, perfectly. Unfortunately, since she’s the star, and they’re not officially a duo, he doesn’t sing nearly enough with her. Not that her voice isn’t amazing all by itself (it most definitely is), but their blended voices are even better.
As spectacular as Chelsea’s voice is, her material (mostly, if not all written by her) doesn’t live up to the same standard. It’s actually reasonably repetitive, both in general feel/sound, as well as brooding theme. She would do better playing in a real Blues Club (in my opinion) than in a place like the Birchmere. She’s a cross between Blues and Jazz. While Todd’s guitar playing complemented her really well, I couldn’t help but think that if there was a soulful grand piano accompanying her, in a blues club setting, she might have come across more authentically.
Todd did something that perhaps other musicians do regularly on stage, but I am generally unaware of the technique. Because we sat so close to him, I was able to see it clearly (this time). On one number, he clicked a switch with his sneaker on a board full of switches. Apparently, that started recording what he was playing. After a few bars, he clicked another switch and the previous recording started playing back in a loop. He literally took his hands off the guitar, but the sound kept coming out of the Birchmere speakers accompanying Chelsea.
Then, after a few seconds, he played a little lead guitar, supported by his own strumming, which he had just recorded live. After a few more bars of that, he eased back into strumming along with the recording, and when that was sync’ed up correctly, he turned off the recording and was back to strumming live only. It was an interesting and cool experience, which might be going on more often on stage than I previously realized.
Regarding Chelsea again, one more nit to pick. She’s not really comfortable on the stage. She’s not awkward either, just not comfy. She’s not leading/controlling the crowd in any way, she’s just settling herself down between numbers, building up the courage and focus to perform the next one. Last night’s crowd was extremely respectful of her, and clapped generously, so it ended up being fine. I could easily see her losing control of a crowd if she opened for someone other than Girlyman, who draws wonderful people wherever they perform.
She joked (awkwardly) a few times about how old the crowd was. When she was hawking her CD, she babbled about how we (the audience) were likely too old to be users of MySpace (uh huh). She and Todd spent a good deal of time teasing each other (including about the difference in their ages). Still, we didn’t know how old she was (if you already checked the link I gave above, the next paragraph will be anti-climactic for you).
I tried to guess her age, and figured something between 21-25. It turns out she’s 17! Wow. That certainly explains the lack of stage presence (not that 17-year-olds can’t have it, as Taylor Swift clearly demonstrates). She’ll likely get there. Hopefully it won’t take too long.
As talented as she is (vocally), she was still just an opening act, with the vast majority of the people in the crowd breathlessly awaiting Girlyman’s appearance on stage. In my opinion, Birchmere gave her too much stage time. She was on for 55 minutes. That’s long, even for a well-known opening act. Given that most of her songs have a very similar sound/feel, it dragged a bit, and a true Girlyfan would have to wonder whether it was eating into Girlyman’s time.
You already know the answer to that. Thankfully, Girlyman gave us every drop of value for our money. Whew!
If you read yesterday’s post, you know that Lois and I brought ten friends to see Girlyman at Gravity Lounge. Last night, we brought 13 people from Zope Corporation (including some family members). We drove three of them up with us and got there at 4:25pm (doors open at 5pm) to pick up our tickets and get a number to be seated early. I had asked the rest of the gang to be there no later than 5:45pm (the doors to the concert hall open at 6pm when they call people in for dinner in the order that they picked up their tickets).
Here are our car guests:
I was amazed (and really appreciative) when every single person in our party was there by 5:40pm. We were number five to be called in. However, since we had 15 people, we couldn’t sit together center stage. We chose two tables at the left edge of the stage and split our group. Each table could seat 12, but we put seven at one table and eight at the next.
Here’s the gang that sat at the first table:
And, table number two:
The food at Birchmere is Southern-style Comfort food, and they do it really well. I had the Pulled Pork sandwich. When I went over to the other table to survey what they had ordered, I said that my pulled pork was fanastic but greasy. Our CTO pointed out that I used the word but incorrectly in that sentence. He was right, and I corrected it to “my pulled pork sandwich was fanastic and greasy”.
Everyone seemed to like their food, and it all looked great. A number of us had decadent desserts as well (I succumbed), but we had to do what needed to be done…
Of the 13 people we brought along, only two had seen Girlyman before. While it’s hard to know whether people are being polite, our group all said that they thoroughly enjoyed the show. One of the guys said that while he liked the music, he loved all of the non-music parts (which are significant in any Girlyman show).
Interestingly enough, most of them were not as kind (polite) about Chelsea’s performance. While the majority did praise her voice, they found little else to compliment. When asked what she thought, one person actually answered “I wasn’t paying that much attention…”. I didn’t love it, but I think I enjoyed it more than most (if not all) of them did.
After the show, seven of us waited in line to say hi to Girlyman. I got to thank them directly for playing Hold It All At Bay, and tell them how perfectly they did it. We took a customary photo with them, which included the youngest member of our group as well. She was a last-minute substitute when her dad got caught in a business trip and she joined her mom (who works at Zope). Ironically, it is the mom and the little one who had seen Girlyman before in NYC (nearly a year ago).
As with the previous night at Gravity Lounge, we ordered a copy of last night’s live show and I’m sure we’ll do the same at Joe’s Pub. Yes, we’re seeing them again on November 5th!
We talked about the show with our three car guests for the next hour on the ride back to Fredericksburg. For us, it was a perfect evening. We hope our guests enjoyed it at least 10% as much as we did.
Update: The little one’s mom just emailed us a great picture of Girlyman with her daughter. Here it is: