Last night’s Mountain Stage featured Brendan James, Vienna Teng, Mark Bates, The Black Lillies and Over the Rhine. Susan Werner was originally scheduled to perform, but was forced to cancel when Sunday’s storms delayed her flight. Local musician Mark Bates was subsequently booked as her replacement.
Brendan James opened the concert and I was very pleasantly surprised by how good he was. His voice and music are even better and stronger live than on his recordings. His poetic, heartfelt folk-pop style falls somewhere between James Taylor, Paddy Casey and Rufus Wainwright.
Brendan played piano and was accompanied only by a drummer and a guitarist, but the trio at times sounded like a full, orchestral band. I especially liked the song “Constellations” and the soaring title track from Brendan’s upcoming album, Simplify, both of which you can stream below. And you can also still nab his Noisetrade sampler with tracks from Simplify below. The album will be released on August 6th.
Buy Brendan James Music @ Amazon (new album available Aug. 6)
I was most excited to see Vienna Teng’s set. I first saw Vienna perform at Mountain Stage in 2008 right before her astounding last album, Inland Territory, was released. Her set then, particularly her bluesy wail of “Grandmother Song,” remains one of the best in my many Mountain Stage memories.
This time around Vienna was previewing songs from her upcoming album, Aims, which will be released in September. You can stream three of the songs below, which I first posted last week.
Vienna began by live looping (recording her own voice for use as background vocals) on her keyboard, then launched into “Whatever You Want” from 2006’s Dreaming Through the Noise. It was the only older song in her set, but fit very well with the new, electro-focused material.
She briefly switched to the Mountain Stage piano for the new songs “Goodnight New York” and “Landsailor.”
After discussing her post-graduate school difficulty in balancing grandiose, global themes with personal stories in her songwriting, Vienna returned to her keyboard for more live looping and the high concept tune “The Hymn of Acxiom.” Musically inspired by choral music and lyrically written from the point of view of a marketing database, the electro-choir style of “The Hymn of Acxiom” was even more haunting and remarkable in person.
Vienna ended her set with an even more impressive feat – a briliant mashup of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” complete with live looping beatbox. It was truly amazing and left no doubt that Vienna Teng is indeed a genius. The audience responded with a very enthusiastic standing ovation.
Vienna Teng’s last performance at Mountain Stage left me wanting her to record a blues album, now I’m waiting for her choral and soul-rap albums. I hope someday Vienna will perform a full concert in Charleston, perhaps at The Clay Center. As wonderful as her Mountain Stage sets always are, they are just too brief for so much talent.
Buy Vienna Teng’s Music @ Amazon (new album available in Sept.)
Hurricane, WV singer-songwriter Mark Bates followed in Vienna’s substantial wake with only his voice and guitar, but held his own very well. I especially like his ballads “Lucinda” and “West Virginia and You,” which you can stream below.
Buy Mark Bates Music @ Amazon
The Black Lillies really set the place on fire. It’s easy to understand why the Knoxville, Tennessee ensemble has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry twenty times to date. They sure are entertain’.
Their sound amps up classic country steel guitar and harmonies with modern Americana rhythm and unexpected punches of psychedelic rock and even a bit of soul. Depending on the song (or sometimes the individual note), they ran the genre gamut from Johnny Cash & June Carter to Ike & Tina Turner, with some Janis Joplin and Jerry Lee Lewis in between.
The highlights of their set were the moving, melodic and melancholy war anthem “Goodbye Charlie” and the high-energy, fast-paced, blues-rock wailer “Smokestack Lady.”
The Black Lillies earned the second standing ovation of the evening. They could easily have played a full concert and left the audience wanting more. As the band left the stage, I saw a couple of audience members rush out to the lobby’s merch table, waving their freshly purchased Black Lillies CDs upon their return.
Buy The Black Lillies Music @ Amazon
After Mountain Stage Bob Thompson pianist played an instrumental cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Over the Rhine took the stage as the final act of the night. Had they played earlier in the evening, I think I would have enjoyed their set much more. But as it was, the banter-happy Ohio husband and wife folk duo were somewhat of a letdown after the exhilarating, magnificent sets by Vienna Teng and The Black Lillies. They weren’t bad at all, just misplaced in such a powerhouse lineup. The highlights of their set were the lilting ballad “I Want You” and the foot tappin’ rumination on transatlantic jetlag, “Gonna Let My Soul Catch My Body.”
Buy Over the Rhine Music @ Amazon
All of the acts joined the Mountain Stage band on stage for the group finale of the murder ballad “On the Banks of the Ohio.”