[ATTENDED: December 7, 2015] Gabriel Kahane
After seeing Punch Brothers on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, I found out that they were playing at State Theatre in New Brunswick (a great venue that often has amazing bands, but also has seats so its, you know, dignified).
I found out the day before the show that the opening act was Gabriel Kahane. I was under the impression that I had never heard of him. Well, technically I had never heard of him, but I had heard him as he has done arrangements for Loudon Wainwright III and Sufjan Stevens. And, it turns out he wrote a song that Punch Brothers sing on their new EP.
Anyhow, I got to the stage about one minute late, so I missed the proper introduction. I walked in as Kahane was standing on stage with his guitar. And what he played sounded…nice. He has a pleasant voice and was playing interesting chords.
I anticipated 40 minutes of pleasant, if unremarkable, solo songwriting stuff. Then he sat at the piano.
He played the song “North Adams” and I was frankly blown away by his piano prowess. He was all over the keyboard, but not in a wanking show off way, just in an orchestral, I know how to use this instrument kinda way. It was a great song and I had quickly changed my opinion.
It only got better when he introduced the next song as from his new(ish) album The Ambassador. He explained that he had written the album about places in Los Angeles from the point of view of different characters. And he asked us to help him sing the melodies in “Griffith Park (2800 E. Observatory Ave).” There were three. An easy one, a harder one and then a fairly complex one. And his reaction to us was excellent. He claimed that the last one was a [I wish I had written down the word he used, perhaps heptatonic scale] and was very hard. So he let us try a few times. And it was lovely when we sang it with him.
His lyrics were wonderful. Little stories, often with humor, that were propelled by his music. I was completely won over. He introduced the next song from that album “Bradbury (304 Broadway)” as being dedicated to his favorite children’s movie, Blade Runner.
Then he shifted gears entirely and did a song from his work Craigslistlieder (you can hear it on his bandcamp site). This is a suite of songs written with lyrics from real Craigslist ads (so don’t blame him for the words). He played “IV. Neurotic and Lonely” a funny song which introduces you to atonal music in a joyful way.
Then he played three more songs from The Ambassador. “Veda (1 Pierce Dr.)” is dedicated to Mildred Pierce. While “Villains (4616 Dundee Dr.)” has the most awesome set up. He asks why movie villains all live in these gorgeous modernist houses. The song is beautiful (he says that it almost became pretentious but when he adds this drum machine beat (with cheesy hand claps) it brings it down a notch) and name cheeked Die Hard and Pulp Fiction. The final song was the somber yet lovely “Ambassador Hotel (3400 Wilshire Blvd).”
I very much preferred his piano songs to his guitar songs. But imagine my surprised to find out that his albums are fully orchestrated–strings and horns and oh so much more. The albums are miles away from the stripped down live show. And while I do really enjoy the album version, there was something so wonderfully intimate about his live performance that I hope he releases these versions some day as well.
Before playing the final song he told a very funny story about his great-grandfather who told him to sell T-shirts. And so he had them for sale with this excellent quote. I am still torn about whether I should have gotten one.
I did buy The Ambassador, though and he very graciously autographed it.
It was an auspicious beginning to a great musical night.