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Recap: Sufjan Stevens @ Merrill Auditorium [4.14.2015]

Sufjan Stevens @ Merrill Auditorium 4.14.15 photo by Hannah Hays

Sufjan Stevens @ Merrill Auditorium 4.14.15 photo by Hannah Hays

Death is the elephant in the room of our lives. It’s one of the few universal inevitabilities we all face in our world, and yet we pretend it doesn’t exist and choose to ignore its impact until we’re directly faced with it. The thought of death, of losing our loved ones, or even ourselves, can paralyze us if we let it overcome us.

Sufjan Stevens confronts death directly on his new album, Carrie & Lowell, named for his mother and stepfather. Stevens’ mother passed away recently, and this new 11-song album is an auditory documentation of processing his loss and grief, as well. The result is a devastating, meditative, but ultimately hopeful understanding of death. It is Stevens’ most personal & introspective album to date; it is also among his very best work.

Carrie & Lowell is a more sparse effort than most anything prior in Stevens’ recent discography, trading in bombastic arrangements for more minimalist acoustic production. The “return-to-indie/folk” sound occasionally recalls the fingerpicked guitar and double-tracked vocals of the late Elliott Smith. Subtle orchestration and warm synthesizers round out the sound, resulting in the most intimate and serious sounding work for Sufjan Stevens’ career.

How would all of this translate to the stage, specifically the grandiose Merrill Auditorium? Flawlessly. Stevens presented a 5-piece ensemble that brought new life to the understated arrangements of his new record, while still retaining the essence of the album’s fragility. Merrill commands more of a “performance” vibe than that of a typical “concert,” thus rendering the crowd completely silent during and after each song. The lush acoustics of the theatre were absolutely perfect for both Stevens’ songs and the meditative aura of the evening. (side note – WHY aren’t there more concerts at Merrill Auditorium? This is the Carnegie Hall of Portland. The atmosphere and acoustics are matchless. It might be more expensive to put on a concert at Merrill, but the end result is worth every single penny. I really hope Merrill Auditorium hosts more events like this on a regular basis.)

Stevens switched between piano and 12-string guitar, with the occasional synth flourish. To hear his distinct voice fill a theatre in person was beyond what words can convey. His studio recordings are often crafted to perfection, so the live performance offered a nice contrast. The live arrangements were on-point, but now there were tinges of the human behind the songs taking center stage.

After opening with “Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)” from his Michigan album, Stevens & Co. performed the new album in its entirety. The first line of “Death With Dignity” sums up his new album in a nutshell: “Spirit of my silence, I can hear you/But I’m afraid to be near you.” “Should Have Known Better” is an instant Sufjan classic, one of the catchiest songs in his catalog. “Fourth of July” stood out in the middle of the set, with the repeating stark revelation that “we’re all gonna die.”

Shortly after this song, Sufjan spoke to the audience for the first time in the show. He openly spoke about how he’s been thinking about death and how to cope with it, and specifically wondering what happens to all of the energy that we put into our lives (and into other people) once they die. Where does the energy go? Sufjan surmised that that energy is passed down, that each one of us is living with the energy of our loved ones, and that we continue to pass it on. The crowd, both bewildered and inspired, let a moment pass before erupting in applause. One can only assume that presenting these songs to the public is as much a struggle as it is cathartic for the mourning musician.

Towards the end of the set, Sufjan spoke again and thanked the crowd for their patience with new material, and then indulged the fans looking for selections from his older albums. These songs took on a fuller, slightly psychedelic feel that evoked the more serious moments of The Flaming Lips’ symphonic sound, though “The Owl and the Tanager” from the All Delighted People EP was a real highlight, with Stevens alone at the piano, his falsetto wails bouncing off the theatre’s ceiling and fading away into the darkness. The encore, which stretched 5 songs, featured three from Sufjan’s esteemed Illinois album: “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois,” the haunting “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” and the rousing closer “Chicago.” At 21 songs, it was the longest show of Stevens’ tour thus far.

Cold Specks @ Merrill Auditorium 4.14.15 photo by Hannah Hays

Cold Specks @ Merrill Auditorium 4.14.15 photo by Hannah Hays

Cold Specks opened the show, with an impressive set that conjured a combination of Southern gospel soul and the moody mid-tempo sound of Radiohead, with a dash of PJ Harvey influence to boot.

Check out the full photo gallery (by Jeff Beam and Hannah Hays) and another video from the show below:

Recap: Lady Lamb / Cuddle Magic / Henry Jamison @ PCMH [3.13.2015]

Words by Jeff Beam / Photos by Andrew Foster

Lady Lamb @ Port City Music Hall – 3.13.15 – photo by Andrew Foster

On Friday the 13th, Port City Music Hall hosted Portland ex-pat Lady Lamb (RIP “the Beekeeper”) for her highly-anticipated record release show (we went record shopping with her the night before the show). After is Aly Spaltro’s 2nd full-length studio release upon moving to Brooklyn a few years ago. The 15-song monster has received rave reviews from the most prestigious music publications (Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, NPR), but Lady Lamb is perhaps most celebrated in her home state. This was most apparent with the lead up to her sold-out release show, with Lady Lamb gracing the cover of both the Portland Phoenix and the MaineToday Entertainment Magazine.

Henry Jamison @ Port City Music Hall – 3.13.15 – photo by Andrew Foster

Lady Lamb wasn’t the only artist on the bill with a homecoming. The first act of the evening was Henry Jamison, my former bandmate in The Milkman’s Union. While Henry is originally from and currently lives in Burlington, VT, he went to college at Bowdoin and experienced crucial formative years in the Portland music scene. Performing both solo and accompanied by Ben Davis from Cuddle Magic, absent from his set were any songs from his Milkman’s Union days, with the exception of “Lover’s Tree” from the Telos EP. Instead, the crowd (already at maximum capacity) was treated to an array of newer compositions, all featuring Henry’s ethereal charm. Few artists have his lyrical command and execution, especially not when coupled with his sharp sense of melody and his musical aptitude. The city of Portland was blessed to host this musician for as long as it did.

Cuddle Magic @ Port City Music Hall – 3.13.15 – photo by Andrew Foster

Cuddle Magic took the stage next, and I’ll start by saying that they are perhaps the most impressive band I’ve ever seen. No exaggeration. The Brooklyn-based, New England Conservatory-bred sextet has a level of command and control that is matchless in the indie scene. Highly disciplined and intelligent people singing & playing a wide array of instruments (vibraphone, horns, circuit-bent keyboards, upright bass), with an emphasis on dynamics, percussion, and interlocking patterns, with the ability to be both minimalistic and grandiose at the same time. Why Cuddle Magic isn’t a national household name is a mystery to me.

Lady Lamb @ Port City Music Hall – 3.13.15 – photo by Andrew Foster

And then, Lady Lamb. Flanked by TJ Metcalfe on bass and Derek Gierhan on drums, Lady Lamb ripped through a muscular set that featured many of the new compositions on After, while also throwing in some classic Beekeeper jams. I’ve had the pleasure of playing with/seeing Aly play many times, but this was without question the tightest I’ve ever heard her with a band. A 30-show tour looms in the near future, but the trio already sounded like true road warriors, seasoned from playing night after night. The crowd at Port City was raucous, delighted at the chance to welcome back their local hero, returning from conquering the world. It was a celebratory atmosphere, and overall, the evening was a massive victory for Lady Lamb, as well as for the Maine music scene. Due to the ceaseless ascent, her next big headlining show in Portland will almost certainly take place at the State Theatre. Lady Lamb will keep rising to new heights, but she’s always be a Maine musician at heart.

Check out a few videos and the full photo gallery from the night:




More photos:

Jacob Augustine Opened For Timber Timbre @ PCMH [2.27.15]

Jacob Augustine at Port City Music Hall - photo by Jeff Beam

On February 27th, Port City Music Hall hosted a mellow evening of northern sounds – Timber Timbre from Canada headlining, and Jacob Augustine from Lincoln, ME opening.

Augustine & his fellow bearded bandmates outright stole the show. Familiar was the singer’s deep soothing voice, seemingly full of wisdom from multiple lives past. New was his experimental twangy chamber folk ensemble, anchored by (my former Milkman’s Union bandmate) Peter McLaughlin on drum flourishes and Asher Platts (Theodore Treehouse) on upright bass, with secret weapon McKay Belk (ex-Forget, Forget) on delicious pedal steel guitar. The quartet mostly played songs from their upcoming album, along with a smattering of reimagined Augustine standbys. The set ended with a rousing extended version of “Animal Orchard,” a highlight from 2011’s Goldyhymns. It’s hard not to leave a Jacob Augustine show and feel anything but complete awe and inspiration.

Timber Timbre took the stage to a slightly smaller crowd than the opening set (a testament to Augustine’s reputation and impact as a performer), and delivered a low-key but impressive set. The Canadian quartet’s live sound crept only slightly louder than the quiet dirge of their studio albums, and Timber Timbre only have a few sounds, but they execute them to perfection. A combination of late 1950s piano balladry with slightly Beatle-esque chord changes, heavy usage of the 6/8 time signature, and low brooding slapback delay-soaked vocals punctuated by the occasional high-pitched yelp. A few quasi-psychedelic organ jams steered the vibe towards early 1970s Pink Floyd. I wasn’t completely blown away, but I was well entertained, and I left with a desire to give Timber Timbre’s discography a closer listen.

Here’s Timber Timbre’s setlist from the show:
Timber Timbre setlist

Note: despite having a photo pass for the show, security would not allow Jeff to take photos of the headliner’s set. It’s unclear if this was due to the band’s own policy or some other reason, but unfortunately it means that we do not have any images of Timber Timbre performing to share with you.

The Lone Bellow and Odessa Played PCMH [2.23.15]

Last night at Port City Music Hall, Odessa and The Lone Bellow kicked off a winter tour with a sold out show. Check out some photos by Cait Kimball (full gallery here) and the rest of the tour dates (continuing tonight in Burlington, VT) further down. Continue reading The Lone Bellow and Odessa Played PCMH [2.23.15]

Jenny Lewis and Kurt Vile (and the Violators) Played The State

Hi folks, it’s been a while, huh? We’ve missed you. Maybe you’ve missed us. Or maybe you’ve been out enjoying your life and going to all sorts of amazing concerts. We sure hope so. Anyway, last week, our photographer Andrew Foster hit The State for the great Jenny Lewis + Kurt Vile & The Violators show. All accounts indicate that it was an excellent night. Check out our exclusive photos below!

2013 Northside Festival Showcase Recap

Lisa/Liza at Northside 2013

For the second year in a row, we put together an official showcase as part of the Brooklyn-based Northside Festival. This time, we teamed up with our friends at StereoActiveNYC (full disclosure: HillyTown was sort of an offshoot/Maine-companion of SANYC in the beginning) and had some help from BreakThruRadio to put together a free, all-day show featuring 12 bands. Maine acts included Sunset Hearts, The Coalsack In Crux, and Lisa/Liza, sharing the stage with some familiar Brooklyn bands such as Miniboone, Clouder, and Weird Children (all of whom have done various HillyTown/Maine things over the past couple years) – among others.

Thanks so much to all the bands, the venue, Northside Festival, and everybody who came out to spend their Sunday/Father’s Day with us in Brooklyn!

Head over to the BTR flickr for the whole photo gallery!

Lady Lamb and Kaki King Played SPACE [12.4.12]

Predictably, Lady Lamb The Beekeeper had an excellent, crowded show at SPACE Gallery, which she always talks about as being her home venue (we’ll never forget that time she hushed a sold out, talkative crowd there before she was even very well-known locally). It’s always great to see her back on that stage, and last night was no exception. Solo and playing a borrowed guitar (from Jeff Beam), she tore through a set of favorites and newer songs to a hyper-attentive audience, and even announced that she’ll be back to play the venue in March to celebrate the release of her first studio album.

Headliner Kaki King may not have had the hometown advantage, but that didn’t get in the way of playing a strong set with numerous guitar changes, and even sharing a performance using a new Moog-crafted acoustic guitar. Check out some photos from the show below.

Photos by Bryan Bruchman.

Pearl And The Beard and You Won’t Played SPACE [12.2.12]

We’re starting to really get used to – and enjoy – these shows where bands take it to the crowd, be that on the floor, or on chairs, benches, bars, etc. Last night at SPACE Gallery was certainly one of those. Though Brooklyn band Lucius had to cancel, the two acts still on the bill truly made the most of the night. You Won’t opened and won the crowd over, going off-mic and singing from the middle of the room for a portion of their set. Later, headliners Pearl And The Beard did the same, even inviting their friend Lady Lamb The Beekeeper (who opens for Kaki King at the same venue tomorrow night) to close out the night with a song she’d helped the band to write. It was definitely a fun night with a room full of friendly, appreciative (and attractive, according to PATB) people. More of these, please.

Photos by Bryan Bruchman.

Girl Talk Did It Again: Photo recap [8.16.12]

Can we just make this happen once a month or so? Girl Talk has come to Portland a couple times now, and it’s a reliably fun, sweaty, ridiculous affair of a party. Read on for photos from the latest visit, shot by Tom Couture. Continue reading Girl Talk Did It Again: Photo recap [8.16.12]

Free Range Festival Photo Recap [4.28.12]

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three months since this year’s excellent Belfast Free Range Music Festival. The growing fest has quickly become one of our favorite musical moments to look forward to each year in Maine, and we’re proud to be a part of it (through our annual afterparty at Three Tides and compilation album). This year, we had three photographers (Bryan, Conall O’Brien, and Steven J. Gray) on hand running around to document all the fun. Read on for a massive photo gallery featuring almost every band that performed (photos from the afterparty will come later) and start making plans to attend next year, when the 4th Annual Belfast Free Range Festival happens on Saturday, April 27, 2013. We can’t wait to see you there. Continue reading Free Range Festival Photo Recap [4.28.12]

Photo Recap: HillyTown at Dirigimus [4.27.12]

Sure, this was almost three months ago, but that sounds like a good time to reminisce a bit. On Friday, April 27, we took over the great Dirigimus warehouse space in Portland for a massive party featuring What Cheer? Brigade, Callers, the Milkman’s Union, and the Nogar Family Band. It was a fun, surreal evening, and we hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did. Tonight at that same space there are two shows, one of which should be getting underway any minute now. Gregg Gin (of Black Flag) & the Royal We are joined by NYC’s Cinema Cinema (who played one of the first ever HillyTown Presents shows at Geno’s back in 2008!) for the show which was set to kick off at 5pm. Hurry up over there! Immediately following this loud rockin’ show is a bit of a more downtempo affair, as if and it celebrate the release of their excellent new record, Bleeding Moon with the help of Wesley Allen Hartley & the Traveling Trees and Aleric Nez at 8pm. Read on for our photos from the show back in April!

Bowerbirds Played SPACE Gallery [6.20.12]

As promised, Bowerbirds played SPACE Gallery on Wednesday with opening sets by Basia Bulat and local favorites The Milkman’s Union. Check out the full gallery of photos by David Zwickerhill below! Continue reading Bowerbirds Played SPACE Gallery [6.20.12]

Tonight, And What We’ve Seen So Far

First things first: tonight, we’re presenting a free show at Slainte Wine Bar. Kicking off with Rural Ghosts, then Max Carcia Conover, Even Parker (if and it), and Greg Jamie (o’death/Blood Warrior, with Jeremy Robinson). See you there at 7pm?

Bonus: it’s already been a few very busy days, but at the end of this ride we’ll have tons of photos for you to see. For now, here’s a shot of one of our current favorite Maine acts, Coke Weed, joined by Micah Blue Smaldone, taken during our Free Range Fest Afterparty on Saturday night.

Coke Weed and Micah are on tour, with a stop in NH tonight before continuing on to NYC. Here are their upcoming dates:

Monday, April 30 – Portsmouth, NH @ The Red Door w/ Micah
Tuesday, May 1 – Providence, RI @ AS220 w/ Micah, Tig & Bean
Wednesday, May 2 – New York City, NY @ The Cake Shop w/ Micah, Steve Gunn
Thursday, May 3 – Williamsburg, Brooklyn @ Cameo Arts w/ Micah, A>G>E, Sun Watchers
Friday, May 4 – Northampton/Amherst, MA @ The Montague Bookmill w/ Micah
Saturday, May 5 – Hudson, NY @ The Spotty Dog w/ Micah, A>G>E
Sunday, May 6 – Boston, MA @ Gay Gardens (Allston) w/ Micah

Week Of Fun Underway. Free Range Fest Today!

Last night we kicked off a week of Maine shows with What Cheer? Brigade (photo above), Callers, The Milkman’s Union, and Nogar Family Band at the Dirigimus space in Portland. Now we’re heading up to Belfast, Maine for a full day of great music, thanks to the Free Range Fest (including the two headliners from last night). Don’t miss our festival afterparty at Three Tides, kicking off at 10pm. Get there early to make sure you can get in the show to see Great Western Plain, A Severe Joy, and Vistas at this free party! Full schedule for the day is here.

Don’t forget to get the sampler we put together for the Fest!

HillyTown Presented NYC [3.8.12]

Thursday night was our first time working with the Williamsburg, Brooklyn music venue Cameo Gallery. It’s an interesting spot, hidden in the back room of a restuarant in a pretty highly trafficked part of the neighborhood. That said, it feels like you’re walking in on a secret party, and that’s exactly what we liked about the night. All four bands (Weird Children, Diehard, Quiet Loudly, and – of course – Bangor’s When Particles Collide) were so much fun to work with and put on a great show. Nights like this are why we do these things. Read on for photos.