We’ve seen Sweet Bitters live three times now (including last night). The first time we saw them was just over a year ago at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. I covered that evening in this post. Seven months later we saw them perform at Googie’s, covered in this post. As noted in that post, the main point of the Googie’s show was to raise money to produce a new CD.
I’m very happy to report that they did indeed produce a new CD, and a wonderful one at that! Last night was the official CD Release Party / show, even though the CD itself has been available for at least two months (we got our copy on March 30th, 2009). In the previous post I said that it would be a 13-song CD. It turned out to be a 12 song CD. I’ll get to the missing song toward the end of this post.
Even though it’s only been 14 months since we first discovered Sweet Bitters, I am very impressed by how much they have grown in that time as performers. From the day we discovered them, we knew they were both extremely talented songwriters. They both have wonderful voices, individually and when they harmonize together. They are both good musicians as well.
So, how have they progressed since we first saw them? First, the simple answer. The first show was just the two of them. It was lovely. The second show added Andrew Frawley, a drummer, to the mix. It was a very nice touch, and I had a lot of praise for Andrew’s playing in my previous post. In addition to playing live with them, Andrew Frawley also was the sound engineer for the new CD, which they recorded in his studio. Given the quality of the CD, I can now safely compliment Andrew’s talents as a sound engineer as well!
The new CD has additional instruments on it that they had never used in a live performance. To continue my simple answer as to their growth, in last night’s show, they played with a full band. Andrew once again played the drums. They added a wonderful bass player who came down from Maine to join them, Kevin Attra. Ila Cantor played electric guitar on roughly half the numbers. On a few numbers they added a wonderful cello player, Martha Colby.
Here’s a shot of all of them on stage at the same time. Apologies for the fact that Sharon and Nina have a major red eye effect here, that I couldn’t correct for. At least you’ll see the stage setup and good shots of Ila and Martha. Kevin is hiding behind Sharon, and Andrew is partially obscured by his drums:
That, in and of itself would be growth. However, their growth didn’t stop there. Sharon worked hard learning to play an electric bass, and showed off her new skills well in one song. Nina played the glockenspiel in one number (and it was a very nice touch!). It also made me realize that when I wrote about The Paper Raincoat a month ago, I was likely wrong when I said they played a mini-xylophone. It too was almost definitely a glockenspiel. Sharon explained the difference on stage, in a very cute story.
Here’s Sharon singing and playing the guitar:
And Nina, singing and playing the glockenspiel:
To be clear, I think they would still put on a great show if it was just the two of them. They don’t need a full band, but they used the additional talent to their credit.
The one thing that I took them to task on at Googie’s (very lightly) was that it was pretty clear which were Sharon’s songs, and which were Nina’s songs, even though their voices blended beautifully no matter whose song it was. That feeling/complaint was completely gone last night. Having a full band probably nullifies the problem, but I honestly believe that they have matured as a group/duo, and even playing by themselves, would mesh really well.
Four of the songs from the new CD are up for your sampling pleasure on their MySpace page. They rotate the selection on occasion. Perhaps our favorite Sweet Bitters song (at least the one we agree on) is Falling Into Place. That used to be up on MySpace, but isn’t at the moment. A good enough reason for you to buy their new CD (available on iTunes, CD Baby, etc.). Since I haven’t mentioned it yet, the new CD is named “Sweet Bitters”. Lois suggested they name it “Falling Into Place”. I agreed with Lois, they didn’t.
I mentioned earlier that the CD ended up with 12 songs, from the original plan of 13. The song that got cut is one that Lois is in love with, Rich Little Poor Girl. We don’t own a recording of that, so we only get to hear it when they perform live. Last night, during their set, they didn’t play it. When the set was over, I could feel Lois’ disappointment. When the crowd cheered loud enough and long enough to make it clear that Sweet Bitters wouldn’t be allowed off the stage without an encore, Lois’ wishes were answered.
For the encore, they played Rich Little Poor Girl, and Lois got to leave completely satisfied with the entire show, including finishing on a personal high for her. Now we need to twist their arm to record it so that we can listen to it whenever we want.
The show took place at Kennys Castaways, a small-ish bar in the Village. We’d never been there before, even though it’s right next to many landmark places like the Bitter End (to name just one). The sound system was very good, in particular for their vocals, which is what makes Sweet Bitters special to begin with. I don’t know exactly how many people were there, but it was packed. Quite a number of people were standing, even though Sharon pointed out to them that there were seats available in the balcony. I guess people wanted the more intimate feel of being near the stage.
We had a great time, heard excellent music, made a new friend (hi Shani), and got to support people we like and admire.
I was looking forward to a beer and a burger (Kennys menu looked pretty tempting online). Unfortunately, the kitchen was closed last night, so I settled just for the beer (very satisfying) and ate when we got home (thanks Lois for throwing together something delicious on such short notice!).
There was another group playing at Kenny’s after Sweet Bitters. It’s tough to even get noticed in the music biz (one of the most brutal ways to try and make a living that I’ve ever seen), let alone to actually make it. I was impressed by a very small touch that this next band did, to help them get noticed.
In an incredibly unobtrusive manner, near the end of Sweet Bitters set, a nearly unseen hand quietly slipped a 4×6 piece of paper onto our table. It was an announcement of their show. Clearly, this served a number of purposes, meaning that they were likely handing these out long before the show, not just to the crowd at Kennys.
At the bottom was a link to their site, pointing out that there were four songs that could be downloaded for free from that site. We didn’t hang around for their set (many reasons), but I did bother to listen to their music, and found it good enough to download (after streaming it first). You can check them out too, and decide for yourself:
My point is that they weren’t in my face, but they didn’t lose an opportunity to try and reach at least one new potential fan. In addition, while streaming is nice (they have it available on their site, on their MySpace page, and in YouTube videos as well), giving me their DEMO CD as a free download will probably accomplish more, as I may actually listen to it more often than I would if I had to remember to visit their site.
In this day and age, giving away a few songs is a better way to try and grow a fan base. Here I am, not really a fan yet, but finding myself compelled to promote their music, perhaps netting them some more fans, even if I never end up listening to their stuff again. Good luck guys!