Mountain Stage: Brendan James, Vienna Teng, Mark Bates, The Black Lillies & Over the Rhine

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.”

Old Crow Medicine Show: Live at The Clay Center, 5/24/13

Old Crow Medicine Show has long been one of our favorite bands here at Muruch, so I was thrilled to see them in concert at The Clay Center tonight.

The stage was lit with what appeared to be vintage glass baubles hanging from the ceiling and a ghostly mist rolled through as opening act Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys took the stage. They gave a peppy, old-fashioned set. I loved their retro Spaghetti Western vibe and harmonies. Mead’s croons and yodels are from another era. They elicited a standing ovation from the crowd with a twisted song about The Andy Griffith show featuring a pot smokin’, moonshine drinkin’ Opie.

Old Crow Medicine Show then took the stage, launching into the title track from their 2012 album, Carry Me Back. From the opening notes they had members of the audience on their feet dancing in the aisles.

They ripped through “Alabama High Test” with flashing lights and roadies switching out guitars for harmonicas mid-lyric.

Lead singer Ketch Secor threw out a lot of love to “the Charleston skyline,” “the Mountaineer state,” “the KRT bus terminal,” “the Kanawha Valley” and “where hillbilly music comes home to roost, West-by-God Virginia,” which earned him a lot of love in return from the exuberant local crowd. It also helped they have local boy Chance McCoy in the band.

There’s no greater musical sight to this country gal than a string band huddled together jammin’. And it must be said Secor plays his fiddle like Eddie Van Halen plays his electric guitar.

The concert was comprised of newer material from the Carry Me Back album as well as some gems from their earlier works.

Most notable was the rousing fan favorite “Wagon Wheel” from their debut, O.C.M.S..The song was written with a co-authoring deal with Bob Dylan, and it is by far OCMS’ best known, beloved and oft covered tune. The entire audience was on their feet cheering and singing along for the duration of the song and the band seemed to pause after it to stare, soak in and appreciate the adoration of the crowd.

Despite my disappointment with 2008’s Tennessee Pusher album, Old Crow’s “Methamphetamine” was one of the most powerful live performances I’ve witnessed.

I had hoped to hear more from 2006’s brilliant Big Iron World (#2 on my Best of the Decade list and one of my all-time favorite albums), but they did play “Cocaine Habit,” “Union Maid” and a soul-stirring, harmonious mashup of “I Hear Them All” and “This Land is Your Land.”

Other highlights were “Mississippi Saturday Night,” “Humdinger,” “CC Rider” and “Big Time in the Jungle,” but it was really a fantastic concert from beginning to end. One of the best I’ve ever attended.

Old Crow Medicine Show have a rare mix of chemistry, energy and artistry. They masterfully bridge the gap between the downhome bluegrass (and blues) past and rowdy rocked up modern Americana. They built the multi-instrumental, multi-genre stage groups like The Low Anthem, The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons now play upon.

OCMS’ sweet backwoods harmonies and barn burning instrumentation made for a very lively, impressive and thoroughly entertaining show.

Though it must be said the true star of the show was the Grassy Knoll Boy I believe Mead called “Reverend Dan,” who popped back on stage to “buck dance” during Old Crow’s set. That dude had pizazz.

Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys joined Old Crow on stage for encore duets of Mead’s old BR549 hit “Cherokee Boogie” and a concluding cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Carrie Underwood: Live in Charleston, WV, 5/8/13

You can read my full review of last night’s Carrie Underwood concert in Charleston, WV at The Charleston Gazette website. An edited version of the review was also featured in today’s print edition of the newspaper.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Carrie Underwood (and certainly not of opening act Hunter Hayes) before the gig, but it turned out to be one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended. Both artists put everything they had into every song. The otherwise spectacular stage lighting was terrible for photos and I forgot my camera, but I snapped a few cell pics. And thanks to YouTube, you can see some videos by other concert goers below.

Carrie Underwood Concert Review

Buy Carrie Underwood Music @ Amazon

The Joy Formidable: Live at Legends of Notre Dame, 4/11/13

Muruch’s Mid-West reviewer/photographer Jen “Coble” Hopper caught The Joy Formidable’s concert at Notre Dame’s Legends Nightclub last Thursday, April 11th. You can read her thoughts about and see her photographs of the show below…

The Joy Formidable played Legends of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, IN) on Thursday, April 11th. Their original set date a couple of days earlier was cancelled due to illness, but when the threesome took the stage, they started off playing like champions.

Ritzy took the stage with bright smiles, bouncing around and engaging the crowd as they were treated to songs off of their latest record, Wolf’s Law.

“This Ladder is Ours” looked and sounded amazing as Ritzy and Rhydian donned rockstar poses all over the stage. Don’t be mislead by the sweet vocals and tiny, petite frame: Ritzy dons a guitar like any guitar god, just one of her many talents as the band’s front woman.

Sadly, the magic ended mid-set as Ritzy began to feel faint. The band cancelled the rest of the set so they could get Ritzy to a medic.

The Joy Formidable have a full summer of touring ahead of them, so there are plenty of opportunities to catch them for a full set in their (hopefully healthier) future.

Buy Music @ Amazon

The Joy Formidable Official Site

Live Review: WV Symphony Presents “Mozart’s Requiem”

West Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s “Mozart’s Requiem” concerts were held at The Clay Center’s Maier Foundation Performance Hall this past weekend and I had the pleasure of attending Saturday night. The WVSO performed Richard Wagner’s “Prelude to Act III, Tristan und Isolde,” Johannes Brahms’ “Tragische Ouvertϋre” (Tragic Overture) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s famous “Requiem,” with accompaniment by Marshall University Chorus, West Virginia Symphony Chorus and four featured guest soloists.

During the pre-performance “Preludes” discussion, Maestro Cooper explained the difference in how American singers approach classical vocal pieces (to avoid a “twang” in their pronunciation) as opposed to singers from other countries. One of the more light-hearted moments came when Cooper demonstrated his point by singing a line from a country song. To which tenor Gerald Gray basically told him to keep his day job. Gray also emphasized the importance of proper, “internal” vocal technique over attempting to achieve an external, Pavarotti-like sound.

I was pleasantly surprised to see such a large crowd brave the bitter cold wind and remnants of the previous day’s snowstorm to attend the symphony. I’m obviously not the only one who couldn’t resist the combination of the WV Symphony and Mozart’s “Requiem.”

I’m not that fond of Wagner in general, but I did enjoy the WV Symphony’s performance of his “Prelude to Tristan und Isolde” four years ago. The prelude to the third act of Wagner’s opera was just as lovely, though a bit darker and more mournful. Since the piece isn’t drastically different from the original “Prelude,” I hope you’ll forgive my quoting from my 2009 review:

Wagner’s composition was mostly based on Gottfried von Strassburg’s poem “Tristan,” but it was also inspired by Wagner’s affair with married author Mathilde Wesendonck as well as the theories of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. “Tristan und Isolde” is considered to be one of the most influential works of the nineteenth century (the 2006 James Franco film Tristan and Isolde was based on Wagner’s opera), and its tonality is often credited as turning classical music in a new direction for the early twentieth century. Wagner was influenced by Weber and Beethoven, but his own work would inspire Mahler, Bruckner, Debussy, and countless other composers.

The work possesses a sweeping, cinematic beauty and elegance, and was handled with tender grace in the many capable hands of the West Virginia Symphony.

The main difference between the opera’s first prelude and the third is its exquisite English horn solo. I don’t know the reasons behind the WV Symphony’s decision to place their English horn player on one of the auditorium’s box seat balconies, but it was an incredibly effective stylistic choice which lent her solo an almost jazz-like quality.

Next up was Brahms’ “Tragische Ouvertϋre.” Despite its name and Brahms’ apparent attempts to elicit sadness with the piece, his overture didn’t strike me as particularly tragic. Compared with my favorite composers Mahler and Beethoven, Brahms’ work seemed almost light and spirited until its dramatic finish. Whatever the composer’s emotional intentions were, I enjoyed the beautiful results immensely as played by the WV Symphony. It made for a nice, refreshing opening act to the evening’s classical headliner.

I was, of course, most excited to hear the WV Symphony tackle Mozart’s “Requiem” and, as usual, they did not disappoint. The orchestra was joined by soprano Janet Brown, mezzo-soprano Mariel van Dalsum, tenor Gerald Gray, baritone Timothy LeFebvre and members of West Virginia Symphony Chorus and Marshall University Chorus with their conductor, David Castleberry.

It may seem odd given my affection for classical music that I’ve only recently warmed to Mozart. I think I disliked him more for his popularity than his actual work. But recently I’ve given him another chance and must admit the masses were right about his genius. His “Requiem” was actually completed by another composer, because Mozart died before finishing the work himself. Subsequently, there continues to be a lot of controversy over how much of the piece was truly composed by Mozart.

The “Requiem” is divided into fourteen movements, many of which feature choir and soloist vocals. The sound and structure of the piece were apparently influenced by Handel’s “Messiah” and it definitely has a similarly grand scope.

The orchestra was restructured to accommodate both the composition and to make room on stage for the large chorus. My date, Brendan, said it appeared as if there’d been “a rapture of string players.”

Soprano Janet Brown’s voice was clear and effortlessly gorgeous and Gerald Gray’s tenor vocals were smooth and melodic.

The chorus singers’ voices and the orchestra’s instruments rose and fell in lovely unison, especially during “Lacrimosa.” I was reminded of the Bible’s description of Solomon’s temple dedication at which the singers and musicians were as one.

Cameras and recording devices were prohibited, so I have no audio or photographs from this specific performance to share. But I found some free, legal audio on SoundCloud and WVSO’s site had a link to the YouTube video below.

WV Symphony Official Site