Let’s Talk About: Blake Mills In Concert

   IMG_0953The experience of a Blake Mills concert is something that cannot easily be described. Despite my best efforts, I will never be able to properly convey what seeing Blake Mills live entailed.

A few years ago, I attended a concert at the World Cafe Live Upstairs in Philadelphia. If you have not had the chance to see a concert there, I suggest you put in your best effort to get there at some point. The venue encompasses all the qualities of being intimate and relaxed, yet is a powerful and acoustically impressive venue. However, the show room Downstairs at World Cafe is something I had not experienced until a few nights ago. From this point on the Downstairs will serve as my venue of preference. The room is slightly larger and more spacious than the upstairs, but still retains an intimate, friendly feeling. It feels similar to the small, dining establishments that line the streets of New York City. It presented the perfect stage for an incredible night.

yMusic, a six piece ensemble served as the opening act. In and of itself, their performance would have been enough. Violinist Rob Moose provided strings for Blake Mills’ newest album Heigh Ho, and has also performed with many other artists including St. Vincent, Bon Iver, and the Punch Brothers. The group melded violin, viola, cello, clarinet/bass clarinet, flute/piccolo, and trumpet to capture both modern and classical sounds alike. One particular piece, “Music In Circles” sounded eerily similar to the sounds introduced by trailblazing composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich. It was euphonious. It was movingly beautiful.

When Blake Mills finally came onstage, I was surprised by his introverted demeanor. I was not expecting an overly talkative and outgoing performer, but I also was not expecting him to seem so shy and humble. Accompanied by his four piece band, he immediately jumped into “If I’m Unworthy” from Heigh Ho and continued into “Hey Lover” from his debut album Break Mirrors. His passion was apparent, but his talent was overwhelming. An unexpected surprise was Blake straying off course down  paths of improvisation and elongated guitar riffs. He appeared to just allow the music to overtake him. I felt I was witnessing a private momentIt was absolutely fascinating and captivating to see such talent and such love for music pour from one individual. Going into the show, I was aware of all the praise Blake has received over the past few years. He has been highly sought after as an in-studio guitarist for artists including Neil Diamond and has been likened to and praised by Eric Clapton. After witnessing him play in person, I realize none of those words even came close to accurately capturing his abilities and talent. I must also applaud his band, for improvising along with him, always closely watching for a slight nod of the head, indicating a wrap-up of a brilliant tangent.

IMG_0939About midway through the show Blake welcomed Fiona Apple to join him for three songs. Blake and Fiona toured together this past year, but it was an incredible surprise to have her come out for this show. Together they sang “Seven” and “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me,” both songs were recorded with Fiona sharing vocals. Their vocal blending was spectacular. Somehow they were able to make two very powerful and unique voices meld together to form one mellifluous cross-harmony. In yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a sleeveless zip-up, there was something extremely endearing about Fiona Apple, and something extraordinarily charming about Blake and Fiona together. What was the most intriguing throughout the evening was seeing the way everyone who walked on the stage stared at Blake in undoubted admiration. They were enchanted by him. Fiona, his drummer, his keyboardist, all followed his fingers rushing up and down the frets of his guitar with such concentration.

Later on in the show, yMusic came back onstage to accompany Blake on “Three Weeks In Havana.” The blend of orchestral voices, guitar, heavy percussion, keys, steady bass, and Blake’s vocals were nothing short of perfect. On occasion he would take a long enough pause in between songs to show his appreciation. On several occasions he referenced how the only people who come to his shows are other musicians and how much he appreciated the support of his band. It was really, really special.IMG_0942

It is hard to think that the night could get any better, but in a complete surprise, Blake welcomed Jackson Browne to the stage. Blake relayed a story that at his high school graduation, he had performed “These Days.”.  Jackson Browne and Blake then went on to perform the hit. It appeared a  last minute encounter. Blake explained that Rob, the violinist, created a string piece for “These Days” in the few hours between sound check and the show. It was also Jackson Browne’s birthday, but I think the ones celebrating were the shocked and elated audience members. For younger readers, if you are unaware of Jackson Browne , please look him up ( I suggest “Stay” or “Running on Empty”). He has sold over eighteen million albums in the U.S. and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He truly is iconic and this performance was one of a kind.

The concert, which lasted over two hours, flew by in what seemed like two minutes.A perfect evening. If I could, I would watch it all over again.

Let’s Talk About: Modern Day Love Songs

Have you ever listened to a song and after the one-hundreth listen, realize there was something really romantic about it in a completely untraditional and obscure way? I find myself thinking this with frequency lately. There is something so pleasant about so-called ‘modern day love songs.’ Songs that are not entirely in-your-face and sappy, but still contain an underlying and subtle message of love and romance. It’s really hard for me to type this because it sounds so damn cheesy, but it’s the truth. This generation, my generation, is experiencing love and life in a vastly different way than prior generations and music that is able to reflect those changes and interpret them in a way that is ‘romantic’ is a really refreshing thing. Maybe the first ten times you listen to songs like these, they don’t immediately strike you as the most lovey-dovey, but the modern day interpretation of relationships is something that is certainly undervalued. The quirky lyrics and skewed views of relationships are fresh, are realistic, and are greatly appreciated by people my age.

Honey & I- HAIM

A World Alone- Lorde

Hey Lover- Blake Mills

Sailboats- Brooke Fraser

Don’t Wanna Dance- MØ



Let’s Talk About: Lyrics

I have always found the value of music to be hidden in the lyrics. There is something magical about the perfect pairing of music and lyrics. If you take away the lyrics, music can still be powerful and meaningful. If you take away the instruments, however, music becomes poetry, and that is something I find fascinating. I remember the first time I drove home from college this past year I made a playlist long enough to last the three hour ride. Long car rides are something I really enjoy, because it allows me time to think without anyone else around. I remember quite vividly this car ride, because it was the furthest I had ever driven alone up to that point in my life and I spent it reflecting on my first year at school. Going away to college is one of the biggest changes young adults experience and it was a very big adjustment for me. My playlist was going and going and I was thinking and thinking and “The Love Club” by Lorde came on. At the time, she was one of my favorite singers (and still is) and I really enjoy analyzing the words she puts out there. I remember the line played – “I’m sitting pretty on the throne, there’s nothing more I want, except to be alone.” I remember just saying out loud to myself, shit.

I found that midway through last year, I began writing a lot. I think I wrote more songs last year than I have in my entire life. Writing music is my creative outlet and it is a way for me to express my feelings. Obviously, no one is listening to my music, but even if they were, the listeners probably would not understand what I was feeling when I wrote the song or what I was trying to express. When thinking of it that way, nobody knows what musicians mean when they write music, and I think that is incredibly beautiful. We can speculate, but will never really know for sure what someone means in specific lines or moments. I remember I kept starting “The Love Club” over and over during that ride home and listening particularly for that sentence. Since that song is on The Love Club EP, the EP that launched her career, it is funny that that particular line would be in one of her songs, since she wasn’t necessarily ‘on the throne’ yet. I think it’s interesting. I think these little loopholes and mysteries are what make music so wonderful.

Speaking back to Ultraviolence, Lana Del Rey’s most recent release, I wrote about how I thought Lana wrote a very personal album about her previous experiences. However, since then, I have read many articles insisting none of the songs from Ultraviolence are personal, but rather they were Lana writing songs from perspectives of different characters. Like I said before, none of us will ever really know. It is so bizarre to me how music can affect certain people in very different ways for no reason whatsoever. “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” by Leonard Cohen is probably one of my top five favorite songs of all time, but why? I have no idea, to be honest. Nothing about the song is relatable to me, and it’s not even that magnificent of a song, to be blunt. Yet, something about it captivates me in an indescribable way. Similarly, in “Don’t Save Me” by HAIM, they sing “all my life I wasn’t trying to get on a highway, I was wondering which way to go” which from the moment I heard Days Are Gone, became my favorite lyric. Why? I have not a clue.

I have a leather bound journal and in it I write the lyrics that I find engaging from songs I hear. What I like the most about it is that when I flip through the pages and admire the lyrics I have written long ago, and more recently, they have no connection. No reason for being my favorites. No reason for being the ones that have jumped out to me in the past, yet they have for one reason or another. That I think, is the real beauty of lyrics. Maybe if I had woken up on the other side of the bed one morning, my journal of lyrics would be entirely different, but even if that is the case I will never know.

Some lyrics I have written down:

“You can play with fire, but you’ll get the bill.” – Bob Dylan

“What did you expect from these red lips, curses laughter and a tender kiss.” – MØ

“It’ll all work out.” – Blake Mills 

“This crown that I hold is tarnished and cold.”- Johnny Cash

“We were born before the wind.” – Van Morrison

“That’s not just friendship that’s romance too, and you like music we can dance to.”- Julian Casablancas. 

“She rules her life like a bird in flight.”- Fleetwood Mac