You can finally see Vienna Teng’s mesmeric cover/mashup of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in this newly released video of her live performance on Mountain Stage last year. And in case you missed my rave review of that concert, you can read it in this post.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Stephen Kellogg, scheduled for the June 30th show back in Charleston, WV, has many live recordings available on Archive.org. This one includes “Hearts of Pain,” which was featured on the TV show, One Tree Hill. Kellogg’s previous Mountain Stage performances are available to stream at NPR.
Over the Rhine will perform at Mountain Stage on July 21st. They have similarly permitted several live shows to be posted on Archive.org. This one is a favorite because it kicks off with “Laugh of Recognition” and includes a “Hallelujah” cover.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down will appear at Mountain Stage on July 28th – you can stream or download a 2009 concert by the group here.
Last night’s Mountain Stage featured Carrie Rodriguez, Brooke Waggoner, Trixie Whitley, Iris Dement and Bruce Cockburn. With such a powerhouse lineup, it’s no surprise the show sold out before the doors even opened.
Carrie Rodriguez’ 2008 Mountain Stage set was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended, so I was excited to see her return to my beloved venue. No one woman should be as pretty and gifted as Carrie Rodriguez. Her face and voice are equally gorgeous, her songwriting is top-notch and she’s a multi-instrumental virtuoso. She was accompanied last night by a single guitarist, Luke Jacobs.
Carrie opened with the high energy “Devil in Mind,” playing her violin like a rock guitar. She followed that with the mellow, swaying song “Lake Harriet,” which she called her “ode to the Minnesota man.” The beautiful love song “Get Back in Love,” a tribute to her guitarist’s parents, was the highlight of her set. Carrie asked the Mountain Stage band to join her for her new single, “I Cry For Love,” and ended with the sweet ballad “I Don’t Mind Waiting.”
Carrie Rodriguez’ fifth full-length solo album, Give Me All You Got, will be released January 22, 2013. You can download the new single, “Lake Harriet,” by signing up for Carrie’s email list at her website and watch the video below.
Julie Adams and the Mountain Stage band took a turn covering Ron Sexsmith’s lovely “Speaking With The Angel.”
Brooke Waggoner, a striking redhead in a bright red dress and black boots, took the stage and piano next. I loved Brooke’s sophomore album, Go Easy Little Doves, but had never seen the classically trained singer-pianist in concert before. I had tickets to see her at Mountain Stage in the winter of 2010, but a snow storm canceled the show. I’m so glad Brooke chose to visit earlier in the season this time.
Brooke has one of those rare, flawless voices that sounds exactly the same live as it does recorded. Her voice and melodies have an unusually haunting and delicate quality to them, yet she’s not afraid to add a dark edge to certain songs.
Brooke and her band blasted the stage like it was a rock arena. This girl is going to be a huge star. At least, she should be. She played all new songs from her upcoming album, each more astounding than the last. It was like someone put the best, most impressive elements of Little Earthquakes-era Tori Amos and The Dresden Dolls-era Amanda Palmer into a blender. She was my favorite act of the night and I wish she’d played an extended set.
Brooke Waggoner’s next album, Originator, will be released in early 2013. You can download the first single, “Ink Slinger, at Rolling Stone.
Belgian singer Trixie Whitley had no difficulty following in Brooke’s wake. Trixie is a jack-all-trades kind of artist, having been an actor, dancer, DJ and musician. Her recording resume reads like a Who’s Who of the music industry, with names like Me’shell Ndegeocello, Robert Plant and Marianne Faithfull. Trixie was by far the most entertaining member of Black Dub when I saw them perform at Mountain Stage in 2010 and one of the standout covers on the recent Fleetwood Mac tribute.
Trixie opened with an atmospheric piano melody before picking up an electric guitar for the harder “Gradual Return,” a rock song with almost psychedelic riffs. She switched to an acoustic guitar for a bluesy ballad about a Mexican town, then slid back behind the piano for the love song finale, “I Breath You in My Dreams.” Every song was completely different, yet equally captivating. Trixie’s soulful, versatile voice rivals Adele.
As I posted last month, Trixie is offering a free, legal EP download via Noisetrade (see the end of this review) and her solo debut, Fourth Corner, will be released January 29, 2013.
Strangely, Grammy-winning folk singer Iris Dement was probably the most famous of the performers and the one whose music I was least familiar with. She counts among her fans and collaborators Merle Haggard, John Prine, David Byrne, Natalie Merchant and the Coen Brothers. Her songs have been featured in various television shows and movies, and she herself played a small role in the film Songcatcher. But, to put it politely, her lengthy, dry banter and high pitched whine were not my cup of tea. The older folks in the audience seemed to like it, but I wasn’t the only younger person in the crowd yawning and checking my watch.
Thankfully, Mountain Stage pianist Bob Thompson soothed my frayed nerves with “Stardust.”
Finally, Bruce Cockburn. I’ve seen the Canadian folk master perform at Mountain Stage so many times over the years, I’ve lost count (last night was his 13th time at the venue). But it’s never enough.
As quiet and unassuming as the man is, there is no question that Bruce Cockburn and his music are legendary. I often wonder why Cockburnesque isn’t as overused a musical adjective as Dylanesque, but then I can’t think of any artist that can be compared to Bruce Cockburn. His live performances are even better than his recordings. There’s just something so likable about his humble demeanor and so captivating about his folk songs.
Bruce started with an older instrumental, then played “Call Me Rose” from his most recent album, Small Source of Comfort. He closed with the quaking, gut-renching “Put it in Your Heart.”
Brooke Waggonor and Trixie Whitley were the only performers of the night who didn’t stick around for the group finale. Carrie Rodriguez, Iris Dement and Bruce Cockburn joined host Larry Groce and the Mountain Stage band for a cover of “If I Prove False To Thee.”
The radiant Anaïs Mitchell stole the show for me. This was the third Mountain Stage appearance by Anaïs that I’ve attended, so she’s tied with Amy Correia as the artist I’ve seen perform the most times at the venue. She never fails to deliver a captivating live performance, and her set at Mountain Stage last night was no exception. Sadly, I didn’t realize until the concert started that my camera’s batteries were dead. I don’t think you could capture that magic on film anyway.
As I said in my review of her superb new album, Young Man in America (click album title for my review), : “Anaïs Mitchell is like a modern day Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Her epic lyrical narratives echo Guthrie’s masterful talent for blending the literary with the ordinary, while her fierce and unique vocal phrasing as well as her intricately multi-layered arrangements take Dylanesque to a whole new realm.“
Anaïs’ dual role as singer and poet were on beautiful display on stage last night. She always had a charming stage presence, but her on-stage confidence seems to have blossomed over the years. Her “Young Man Band” – comprised of singer Rachel Ries (Anaïs’ Country EP partner), bassist Noah Hahn and multi-instrumentalist Ben Davis – provided worthy accompaniment. Davis’ banjo playing during “Dying Day,” which opened the set, was especially noteworthy.
“Dying Day” was the perfect way to introduce the audience to Anaïs and her new album. It was remarkable how her performance evoked a strong, positive reaction from everyone in the crowd, regardless of age – both the middle-aged man beside me and the little girl sitting in front of me nodded their heads along to the song.
Anaïs and her crew combined brief “Wilderland” and the title track from Young Man in America into one seamless, stellar medley. All of the songs sounded even better live than on the studio recording, but “Young Man in America ” was especially moving.
Anaïs’ plaintive call of “my daddy was a repo man, put me out onto the street, didn’t give a damn for me, did not give a damn!” brought tears to my eyes, and the haunting transition from the song’s final lyric “let me climb back in the bed you made me in” to the gorgeous instrument flourish that closes the song was absolutely hypnotic.
Anaïs’ set wasn’t heavy on banter, but she did talk a bit about her father when introducing the song “Shepherd,” which was inspired by his out-of-print novel The Souls of Lambs. It is her father’s face that adorns the cover of Young Man in America and Anaïs joked about his not wanting to cut his hair so people would recognize him from the picture.
During Anaïs’ emotive rendering of “Shepherd,” I noticed bassist Noah Hahn kneeling down on one knee with his eyes closed and his face turned up toward Anaïs. It seems her heartfelt vocals and musical narratives were as rapturous to the members of her band as to those of us in the audience.
“Tailor,” while not a favorite track of mine on the album, was incredibly powerful live – especially Anaïs’ breathy sighs of “Who Am I?” in the last verse. She then ended her spectacular set with “You Are Forgiven.”
After three brilliant albums and three magnificent live performances, Anaïs Mitchell has cemented herself as my favorite contemporary artist.
Anaïs Mitchell will perform a rare full concert in West Virginia at Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall on April 14th. I hope to attend and review that show as well, so stay tuned.