Eileen Graham - Ms. Graham plays piano and handles the lead vocals, while a guy named Brian plays acoustic guitar. A few back-up singers join in later in the set, but their impact is minor. Rather, this is fairly direct singer-songwriter material sharpened up with just enough pulsating sounds between piano and guitar. At times, the piano will cut back allowing the guitar to carry the weight of the song, so there is enough variation here. It is all pretty pleasant with the vocals of enough quality to handle the limited accompaniment. One song needed a delayed restart as her computer's batter lost power and her keyboard cut out. Computer? Battery? I was not hearing the need for the computer, and why she would not plug in to an outlet is probably a mistake she won't repeat. A little rewiring by the soundman and we are good to go. The set became a little ragged by the end as if this threw her a bit off her game or perhaps the earlier songs were more interesting. Still, it was an effective opener and the large crowd was appreciative and fully absorbed.
Alexz Johnson - I chatted with Ms. Johnson for a bit before the show and will post an interview soon. Her youthful charm belied the sharp, intelligent set that came next. I expected a pop-folk-rock hybrid of sorts but heard more of a powerful, hearty R&B/rock set. There were some pop moves, particularly in the lovely second song, although there was a lot interesting technique within as smooth adjustments transitioned the snappy moments with deeper passages. The band was a sharp professional crew with guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. They all added back-up vocals which did lighten the sound a bit, as Alexz Johnson had a powerful voice on top of it all. She wears her influences well, with Jackson Browne songwriting, Motown and Patsy Cline style singing, along with a sharp band to keep things rocking for both young and old crowds. The songs were shorter than I would have guessed, but that is something that also feels more old-school to me back in the pre-jam sixties where even the pop music that was more R&B based would cut to the quick and deliver an immediate complex hook in a tight little package. I appreciated that as there were no histrionics which is something that could easily have been employed when you have a powerful voice like this. Never overly cute and always intelligent without lacking the emotional connection, this hour of music worked for just about everyone here. The title cut of her EP "Skipping Stone" was a powerful ballad and would be a great place to start for anyone interested. She will be continuing on her coast to coast tour before working up a full-length album for early 2013.
Quote of the Night: Eileen Graham... "Obviously, this is crowd surfing kind of music, so feel free."