words and photos by Ted Zep
I prefer to watch musicians perform from the side of the stage. I always have. And while I’m not always thrilled with the layout of Musica (it is wide and narrow) the one feature it does afford me is the ability to view shows to the side and slightly behind the entertainers. Being able to watch band members signal each other to adjust speed, exchange smiles or hack away at an uncooperative foot pedal appeals to my voyeuristic side. Also, I can see the crowd from their perspective. The ecstatic charge of electricity that emits from an audience as they voraciously latch on to an incredible performance is an intoxicating thing. Or conversely, the icy look of disengaged blankness as the musician is unable to connect with their muse is equally telling. That’s where the story of a performance lives; on those faces.
For example, take tonight’s show at Musica on June 15, 2018.
“It’s about to get real interesting up in here,” barks Whiskey Hollow vocalist Madeline Finn.
Finn, sporting a brown felt fedora, white t-shirt and black trousers commands the stage with the swagger and metered charmed of early rock ‘n roll pioneer Gene Vincent. Her presence, however, isn’t merely a posture. Finn has palpable charisma and legit vocal chops.
The band savaged its way through a set of rootsy, Americana and jukehouse rock. Finn’s vocals were substantial and aggressive while drummer Tom Stankiewicz beat the veritable blood out of his drums. Bassist Holly Camp was aggressive and entertaining.
I watched Finn as she performed. When she begins to lose herself in a song she unwittingly perches up on her tiptoes to give herself that extra little oomph. It’s an easily missed nonverbal cue but it speaks volumes about her passion as a performer.
Zach Beaver was up next. He led a six-piece group that punched out a respectable set of R&B flavored dance pop. There was a noticeable contingent of the female element of the audience (and surely fellas, too) who snapped to rapt attention the moment his performance started. I think he is capable and entertaining, but the set felt sorely lacking in any sort of surprises. The road from the first song to the last inhabited the same general aural space. A tiny hint of danger would go a long way in giving dimension to the music.
Joshua Powell and the Great Train Robbery occupied the semi-main event position. He and his band faced a minor uphill battle as a portion of the audience left after Beaver’s set. It left him in the position of recalibrating the energy in the room. Powell and company forged on playing a collection of well-executed and memorable psychedelic indie rock.
At 10:15, nearly three hours into the evening, Ledges take the stage. They open with the keyboard-infused, “Nothing to Say.” They quickly transition to the achingly earnest rocker, “Teenage Daydream.”
Singer Andy Hoffman and the band meticulously construct a dreamy and intoxicating set that builds momentum to the closing one-two punch of the finale. Along the way, they even throw in an un-named, un-recorded new song that they are working on. Like I said, a tiny surprise here and there makes a performance feel special.
The band closes the set with the oldest original song in their repertoire, “This House.” Sincere and confessional, “This House” has a haunting quality that sticks with you.
Hoffman dashes off stage, asking fans to stick around for just a moment. He returns with an acoustic guitar and invites the vocalists from the other acts to join him as the evening closes with the collection of singers performing “The Ocean.” As the disparate voices merge together it creates a moment that is elegant and genuine and intimate. It’s a realization of the aesthetic of Ledges (the band) as a concept. It was really quite special.
As the crowd begins to exit, Hoffman’s wife approaches the stage. He leans down.
“You’re sweaty,” she laughs as the two kiss.