Monday, April 6, 2009

Robert Francis at The Troubadour

Thursday, April 2, 2009 was the first show I ever got into on a press pass. I could never have pictured that, even a year ago. I walked up to The Troubadour box office and said I was press for Robert Francis and they handed me a ticket. Pretty neat. Thanks to Ashley Jax (Rock Insider) for that.

I got inside as Haim were finishing up, but I could tell, even from a brief exposure, that the three front women (sisters, I'm guessing) had remarkable voices. I ran into various Parson Red Heads here and there, about to go on, when I spotted Ashley, perched with elevated broken ankle, on a bar stool. I guess what happens at SxSW doesn't always stay at SxSW. She said she'll be hitting the stage in a few days with The Monolators.

As is typical nowadays, there were a lot of competing shows Thursday, so it kept the audience numbers in the mid-range, and the crowd response was rather subdued.

The Parson Red Heads took the stage with their latest lineup and played a solid set of their amalgam of '60's psychedelic folk rock and contemporary indie rock constructing something really beautiful that just sparkles. The wonderful voices of Evan Way and Sam Fowles and Brett Marie Way and all the others blend together in glorious harmony over layers of shimmering guitars.

Their live sets have become disciplined and seamless, yet they appear to have so much fun on stage, it's infectious. They sang old favorites and plenty of new material from their forthcoming 7" record, Orangufang. This hard working band deserves all the accolades that will come it's way for their upbeat and thoughtful indie rock. And at the end, with guests joining them on stage, all dressed in white, they filled The Troubadour with a celebratory spirit.

Robert Francis and his band came on shortly after 10 and he displayed the same sense of maturity and assurance I saw during his January residency at The Echo. He performed songs I've gotten to know from his CD, One by One, and I have to say, the depth and range of his voice, together with a worn quality, surprising in one so young, is best heard live. The recording has a slightly too careful quality and the songs really breathe in the live setting, sounding rough-edged and more urgent.

His voice serves well the melancholy he projects singing about dashed hopes and lost love. His band is a tight unit of varied musicians that seem to share his musical sensibility and on this night his sister contributed strong vocal support. She also performed at one of the residency nights I attended and I enjoy the blending of their voices and also her ability to hold back allowing Robert to shine.

I recognized "Mama Don't Come", "Good Hearted Man" and "Got It All" and enjoyed the numbers I hadn't heard before. He writes from a personal perspective, stories of hope and despair, honestly, and without self pity, allowing him to connect emotionally with his audience.

His final acoustic number was performed simply, without fuss, and wrapped up the evening nicely. Now signed to Atlantic Records, Robert Francis appears poised for success and as his songwriting matures, he can only expect to continue to win new fans.

Big thank you to Scott Schultz for the photographs.


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