The evening did not start well upon arrival, as I realized I had left my little notebook and pen to write my notes down in the car. I couldn't use my phone effectively as I felt I would need two hands, and I needed one to hold a beer. I felt bummed that I hadn't even managed to accomplish what I assume is the second-most important task in reviewing a show after actually being at the show. However, my spirits rose immediately after having a Purple Rain (which wasn't anything special but I felt like I was now officially honoring Prince in the most selfish manner), so I decided to adapt. Rather than write about the specific songs and my reactions to each one, I decided to look at the overall experience of listening to Ms. Andrews, as well as my observations on the Americana/folk-rock scene that night.
Americana - or whatever fits your mind for this genre - is an interesting breed of music, in that I am not sure if there's another brand of music where competent musicianship, quality singing and at least decent lyrics can really make the concert experience lukewarm and meh-able.This style of music fits within some consistent trappings: generally you have at least one acoustic which is often kicking the song off (might even be using a capo on the 2nd or 4th fret), open chords, and multiple harmonies. Even when these are performed well, the ears begin to mix them with the multitudes of other bands that are doing the same thing. You find yourself moving towards the back, towards the exits or at least to the bar, so you can have a conversation and maybe sit at a table.
And the thing is, the music could still be good, perhaps really good, but if there's not one little thing that sparks your brain to notice- a distinct voice, really unusual lyrics or phrasing - then it all becomes background. Other genres can skate by on being solely competent and grab your attention because their angry and loud by nature and you have no choice to be focused on them. But Americana shares that folksy politeness in sound where it can be easy to excuse yourself from the room.
So, with this in my mind, what did I think of Andrews the first time I saw her? She started out by herself on an acoustic, wearing a comfy sundress and a natural smile, and I thought to myself "Well, this has the chance of fitting into my "Slippery Slope of America" logic I mentioned earlier. She has a strong voice and a good sense of melody, but I wasn't sure I was going to stay focused for the whole set, or have it leave me with any impact.
Then, after the second song, she brought out her touring guitarist whose name started with a "J" and if I hadn't forgotten my notepad I would have remembered it- and the vibe of the performance changed. The guitarist provided a great layer to the music that would have been missed if Andrews was straight solo (Andrews's albums are well-fleshed out by an entire band and solid production), using effects to not overwhelm but support, and that shimmering layer brought more power to the lyrics. I also enjoyed her soloing- simple but with a nice bite to cut through the folsky sweetness and hinted at the darker lyrics inside the song. J's added vocal melodies (which made me think of First Aid Kit) also fit well with Andrews and it's a credit to the two of them for meshing well. I don't know how long they have been playing together on this tour or prior, but for the rest of the set, I was locked in.
So my final review? If you are an Americana fan, or want to see a good musician that can add a little bit extra to her performance (outside of somewhat awkward stage banter), I recommend catching Andrews next time she's in town. I'd be curious to be there with a full-backing band, as she more than held her own with just two guitars.
PS- Matt and I discussed if there would be a Prince cover performed, and which one it would be. Matt believed it would be "Nothing Compares 2 U", and I agreed. Turns out Drew Holcombe covered it, so we won the night.