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.

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My Q&A With: Loper

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Sometimes the world feels like a very small place. After coincidentally being in the same place at the same time on multiple occasions, budding singer-songwriter Loper and I finally stumbled into one another. Who is Loper? He is a teenager from the Philadelphia area with vocals that sound strikingly similar to many prominent artists currently reigning at the top of the electronic/synth/pop realm. Completely on his own, Loper is managing to make a name for himself, playing shows in the suburbs of Philadelphia and continuing to blaze forward with a fervor for music. Loper and I had the chance to talk about his music and what he hopes to learn and achieve in the future.

What initially sparked your interest in music?

I started out at age 4 in a professional theater company doing musicals so I guess I’ve just always been interested but I only started writing songs at 14.

Who would you say your biggest influences are, both in music and general?

I’ve always listened to a lot of jazz so like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald are definitely major influences but some more modern influences would be MØ, Alt-j, Lorde and Jessie J.

How is it working on your first official EP?

It’s crazy watching the songs I plucked out on my piano in my room become real. The process is slow but rewarding. I wish I could be in the studio making music 24/7 but sadly that’s just not realistic but overall it’s been a blast.

What has the reaction to “Poppin Pills” been like?

People seem to really dig it. I barely did any promo for it and it got a great response in my opinion. When I sang it at my most recent show everyone knew the words which was a little nuts. You never really think that the words you’re singing at the keyboard next to your bed will ever be sung by other people, or at least I never did.

I can hear similarities to a lot of musicians such as James Blake, Sam Smith, and Troye Sivan in your music. Do you begin working on a song with a particular sound in mind or does it evolve as the process progresses?

I normally start with lyrics after which I kind of wrap the piano around it and then the full produced version just kind of falls into place in my head. I never really know where I’m going with stuff until it gets there and then all I have to do is flush it out. Also those comparisons make me happy because those are artists I love and respect a whole bunch.

What do you hope to accomplish within the next few years?

I honestly would just like to promote this upcoming EP as long as its relevant to me, maybe tour it if it gets to that point and then hopefully I’ll be in a place in my career where I’m able to record a full LP and maybe by then I’ll have a bigger following. Those are my hopes n’ dreams anyway.

If you could tour with any three musicians, who would they be and where would be you most want to play?

Lorde, Tove Lo and probably Thomston. All three are in my lane and all three seem like hella cool people. I would love to go play AU & NZ. They seem like they have a great appreciation for live performance down there.

Let’s Talk About: MØ In Concert (Round 2)

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A while ago I had returned home from a concert and my Dad asked me ‘if I had gotten my money’s worth.’ Having seen MØ twice now, once in May and then again a few days ago, I simply cannot think of a more appropriate saying. I first saw MØ in a venue with a capacity of 340 people. The venue I saw her in most recently could hold up to 1,000 people. Prior to this leg of her North American tour, MØ had played various festivals in Europe for thousands of people. Despite the minuscule venue in May and the underwhelming turnout in Philadelphia a few nights ago, MØ performed as if she were playing Reading and Leeds or Coachella. This is the driving force that will thrust MØ forward in the music industry.

The musical accompaniment on her tracks tend to be very powerful, yet MØ’s voice compliments it. Her soulful voice is captivating, even when she is in the audience, or crowd surfing (both which happened on multiple occasions). She is 100% authentic, without feeling a need to provide glitz or glam. Her outfit choices, typically leggings, sneakers, and a T-shirt speak to that, yet her artistic vision elevates her shows to something extraordinary. At each show there is a screen on the back wall with a film loop of MØ in black and white projected on it. Like MØ this idea is simple yet entrancing. The energy she has is unlike any other, it seems as though she has been performing forever, when in reality she has not been performing in these environments for very long. Whether you are MØs biggest fan or do not know a single word to any of her songs, it is impossible to leave her concert feeling as though the experience was lackluster. I have attended my fair share of concerts, and what I said before I will say again, she puts on one of the most enthralling, entertaining, and exciting shows I have ever witnessed.

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Setlist: 

Maiden

Fire Rides

XXX 88

The Sea

Slow Love

Dust Is Gone

Pilgrim

No Mythologies To Follow

Freedom (#1)

Waste Of Time

Never Wanna Know

Walk This Way

Glass

(Encore)

Say You’ll Be There (Spice Girls)

Don’t Wanna Dance

Let’s Talk About: Billy Joel In Concert

IMG_0348My experience at the Billy Joel concert can only be described as something out of a dream. Last night, I headed up to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, home of the Philadelphia Phillies (woot!) for one of the final stops on Billy Joel’s tour. The fact that it was in a baseball stadium in and of itself was enough for me. I am certainly one who values intimate concert venues, but there is something so overwhelming about a stadium that big that fills me with such exhilaration. Our seats were on the field, looking around me all I could see was a sea of faces and seats endlessly spanning in every direction. Looking back and forth from the stage and Billy to the thousands of faces behind created this feeling of awe, being so small in such a large environment. Also the fact that musicians play for audiences this large, make this many people cheerful is an incredible concept. It was a feeling of liberation juxtaposed with a certain anxiety and sense of claustrophobia that absolutely boggled my mind.

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Lolol at my sweaty selfie ft. Billy Joel himself.

Billy came out around nine o’clock and played until eleven. What I love the most about him, and always have, is that he is such an entertainer. Aside from his amazing musical talent (he sounds just as he does on his albums form twenty years ago) Billy puts on a very light and whimsical show, allowing his jovial mood to shine through. There were several things I found very impressive throughout the show. One, Billy is able to cruise through a two hour set barely taking any breaks between songs. Two, he sounds exactly like he does on his albums. Three, he engages the audience in it’s entirety, all 50,000 people.IMG_0370

Four, speaking from a personal standpoint on this one, I am nineteen years old, the last album Billy released (other than his album of classical compositions) was released two years before I was born. Let that sink in. Yet with each song I was completely captivated. I wanted to sing along and dance and not allow any outside thoughts to prevent that from happening. During “We Didn’t Start the Fire” the environment in the front few rows was equivalent to that of any of the concerts I have been to recently, the only varying factor being that there were fifty year olds and twenty year olds dancing together in harmony. To me, to someone who wasn’t exposed to Billy in his ‘prime time’, this is Billy. Someone who is able to unite a vast amount of people through music, through entertainment, through happiness. 

P.S. He kinda reminds me of a pumpkin for some reason, but hey pumpkins are my favorite fruit so.. also I was escorted to the front row mid concert so that was casual.

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