Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tom Brosseau, Shelby Earl and Jon Sands at the Fremont Abbey

I've heard good things about the Fremont Abbey, but I had never managed to catch a show there. Then I saw that Shelby Earl was playing there with Tom Brosseau. Tickets were $10, or $12 for the second row, or $14 for the first row. I got the last 3 tickets in the first row. Time to check the venue out!

After work I caught the 5 from the office to Fremont and wandered around until I figured out where the Fremont Abbey is. It's in a building that looks like a church, or an abbey I suppose. Brilliant insight there! I had visions of a large open space, but it was actually in the bottom floor in a fairly small room. Dana drove the car down and joined me for the show.

Jon Sands, a poet from New York city, led things off. Seattle is probably one of the more poet friendly towns around, and Fremont is even more poet friendly than the Seattle norm, so it was a really friendly crowd. Sands liked the attention and feedback and kept us amused and occupied. Sands did a bit of verbal riffing and poetry, and Shelby Earl came out and played a guitar backing for one poem, and Sands went about (as he put it) spreading magic. He told stories and blushed at the racier bits of his own poems (those front row seats are nice!), and obviously was thrilled by the audience's positive reaction. He had fun with the single folks in a crowd participation bit and worked well both in the intro and between acts. In the small scale venue with a couple of very folky/singer songwriter acts Sands was a good fit and added entertainment and kept us engaged.

Next Shelby Earl took the stage with Anna-Lisa Notter. Shelby sings leads and pays guitar and Anna-Lisa sings backup, sometimes a separate line or repeat but more often a harmony with Shelby's voice.

"Everyone Belongs to Someone" is one of my favorites, Shelby's and Anna-Lisa's voices play off of each other wonderfully, giving the titular vocal an aching quality - you know it's a lament well before it circles to the ultimate "who belongs to me?" This is one of my favorite songs, it's beautiful in the intimate stripped down version at the abbey and it's beautiful in the full band version at the Sunset. Shelby is the master of the slower tempos, her songs build over the longer slower measures to a powerful impact. They resonate and you still hear and feel them long after the show is over.

Shelby played some new stuff & "James" was great, a complex love song with another one of those classic heartbreaking Shelby Earl endings. Her voice was excellent all night, and when she and Anna-Lisa hit some of the sadder intervals it just does something to your heart and soul. The best songs leaves me somewhat breathless because I forget to breath while they hit the peaks and valleys of emotion. We're right next to the stage on one side and the audience is very quiet and attentive, focused on the performance. Sea of Glass is another great song. I keep thinking that - Swift Arrows is an another great song. The mics and amplification and speakers are all working perfectly well and the abbey is a fairly small short space (more wide than deep) so it doesn't need all that much amplification or volume. The full version of Burn the Boats (not yet released) is another great song. Shelby's acoustic guitar and the vocals and Anna-Lisa came through very clean and clear in the mix. Shelby's songs are heartrending and moving and her performance is beautiful both technically and lyrically. She has still more songs she's working on and the taste we got made us hungry for more. She's managed to get good coverage more than once from NPR., her songs and albums are awesome and her performances are great. Keep an eye out for her shows, they're always worth seeing and she may not be playing small venues for too long.

Next we got a passionate reading from Jon Sands, dedicated to his older brother that Jon wrote for his brother's wedding. It was a good romantic reading and prepped us nicely for Tom Brosseau.

Brosseau has a wonderful voice, a tenor that was very nuanced in the clean sound of the abbey. He can sound old and weary when he wants, young and energetic too. Mostly he just sounds very wise. That voice is gorgeous and the patter was interesting, including a bit of a road story.
After a few songs Brosseau announced a sepecial guest - Mark Pickerel. Mark's a local celebrity from Ellensburg who played in Screaming Trees 3 decades ago (my how time flies) and is a fixture on the local scene, frequently playing as Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands and occasionally - like now - solo with a guitar. He basically pwned Brosseau and Earl in 2 sentences with one of the most efficient bits of patter I've ever heard, then kicked into an inspired "I Study Horses" that Mark says Brosseau had requested. Inspired choice, it's a great song and showcases Pickerel's baritone voice. I didn't get video, but KEXP has a nice full band version I'll embed.
Tasty, brilliant performance of a powerful song that worked extremely well done solo with acoustic guitar.

Finally Brosseau came back on and finished his set with beautiful songs and a voice that you can't help falling in love with. Since I didn't record anything I'll embed this KEXP video of Brosseau. After a couple songs for an encore the show ended with the crowd sharing a glow and huge smiles. The performers hung around to sell & sign merch so we got to hang & visit and enjoy the afterglow together for a while longer. Pretty amazing talent and a moving show, Wednesday ended up going extremely well, even better than I expected. Mark Pickerel as a guest star is going to enhance any show, and the quality of the performers, performances, and venue sound were nothing short of amazing.

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