John Heart Jackie - Portland, Oregon bands seem to be reversing Horace Greely's advice lately, as yet another two west coast musicians are here in DC, for their first time. They are man and woman on guitars and voices with some keyboards in a few songs and a couple of very minor rhythm tracks used, as they have a fuller band relaxing out west. They commanded the stage immediately with a quiet intensity that caressed the crowd right into their world of thoughtful slightly psychedelic folk music. The guitars had that same ethereal ringing quality that I find in the Welsh star, Meic Stevens. Their sound is quite reminiscent of his work with Heather Jones. The music is not steeped in Celtic tradition, however, but I also can not really call it Americana although the local roots show through. Their delicate touch with the vocals is what was quite amazing here and kept everyone transfixed throughout their 45 minute set. The crowd swelled to 35 or more and rarely have I seen such a quietly intense audience. They covered the Stevie Nicks song "Wild Heart" after dramatically urging everyone to listen to "Storms" which brought a few laughs. They succeeded in keeping the set fun with lots of drama and intensity in the songs, all with a light approach. Tight-wire walking can be quite elegant.
Annie & the Beekeepers - This NY (via Mass) quartet is a perfect match for the opening band as they too showcase outstanding vocal work atop a folk rock base. They have the basic band format with rhythm section and a couple of guitars, electric and acoustic. Some of the bass is on stand-up and all four of them contribute to the lush, hearty vocals, although Annie Lynch handles the lead. There is definitely a stronger Americana folk sound here that never quite hits country. I'll steal the comparison to the Be Good Tanyas, offered by the Boston Globe, as it makes perfect sense. Really solid all the way through their 42 minutes with vocals that rivaled the Fleet Foxes on occasion. The crowd was about 50 or so by now and clearly dug these sounds. I am sure many of them will be back when they celebrate their album release just next month at the Kennedy Center.
Andrew Grossman - Andrew is in the guitarist/vocalist for a local outfit called the North Country. He goes it solo tonight. Alas, it is late, so the crowd thins down to about 12-15 or so, but they are treated to a really nice set. His guitar style is quite accomplished with a finger picking/strumming combination that is quite fluid. He has a few effects to allow himself to head off to outer space, but keeps a firm hold on the folk based songs. I imagine a few of them are simply solo takes on his band's songs. He does offer plenty of new material, though, so he can be as creative as he likes with that and no one would be the wiser. He offered a lovely version of Gershwin's "Summertime" which I will never get tired of. This was a great night of music and I would certainly like to see North Country some time soon, as well as the other two bands together or paired up with the many other thoughtful folk-rockers out there.
Quote of the Night - From the openers... "We played that in New York the other day and someone yelled 'that was really hot!' Really? It was two folkies harmonizing. I mean most people say that was sweet, lovely, but hot? But it was all fine--he bought a t-shirt."