Saturday, April 20, 2013

Many Embers And History Collide On April 18, 2013 At Taix Lounge

I feel like I'm taking a one, two punch in the gut this week as a native Bostonian, beginning with the tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday, and this evening, Thursday, I hear about the seemingly random shooting of a campus police officer on at M.I.T. (where I worked for five years in the 1970s). There's speculation of a connection to the Marathon bombing since hundreds of police and F.B.I. officials descend on the scene and it looks suspicious. Then I have to leave for a show, feeling like I'm leaving a movie before it's over. Little did I know that the whole situation was about to blow open.

I grabbed the Sunset bus over to Taix Lounge to see the second show by that new upstart band, Many Embers, at the "Mad For Sadness" weekly show that goes on every Thursday night. In February, Rob Danson debuted his new project as a solo act (photo from that night at left), with a little accompaniment by Nick Ceglio and Kaitlin Wolfberg, where the bearded singer charmed his audience and actually got them to sing along, even though the music was brand new. I had enjoyed the EP that he'd self-released, but hearing the songs live made me realize what treasures they are. In this acoustical format the focus was on the relentless tumble of lyrics and their complex construction. Concentration is required to fully appreciate. The audience ate it up.

On Thursday, I thought I was just going to a little set by a friend's band, but it turned out to be a show worth writing about, happening as it did on a night that turned out to be one of great historical significance. It just felt good walking into this warm room at Taix, and running into a cluster of friends packed at the entrance. That, and a beer, helped offset some of the day's drama.

But it was the music that transported me out of myself and when Rob started with a new song that was bursting with rapid-fire lyrics, you had to let everything go and just LISTEN. Despite the bar chatter, he persisted and sang two songs alone, the second being "Counterbalance". Now, shorn of facial hair (see above), his expressions are more readable heightening the raw emotion of the songs.

Inviting the rest of his current line up on stage, the whole mood changed as the music took on a delicately orchestrated indie/chamber feel. Being used to the inclusion of drums on the recordings their absence here puts the emphasis on the composition themselves. Kaitlin Wolfberg brought her usual expertise to the highly varied violin parts, bringing with it a tremendous amount of pathos.   Adam Villanueva and his skilled bass playing were pointed out to me by Rob when we sat watching Seasons play in this very room a couple of weeks ago. I think I've underestimated his talent because in Seasons, he's just another part of that gorgeous tapestry of sound, but when you listen closely the rock steady quality of his playing shines through. Todd McLaughlin on mandolin, guitar and banjo brings his versatility to every band he's in, and here his contribution is crucial.

Rob's Death To Anders compatriot and leader of his own top-notch band, George Glass, is Nicholas Ceglio, and I've been watching these two perform together for the last five years, and their symbiotic musical relationship has morphed and changed so now they sing like two halves of a perfect unit. Rob's gargled baritone vocals and Nick's sweet choir-boy croon seem an unlikely mix, but surprisingly when singing together one sound picks up where the other leaves off.

A highlight was the lead song off the album, "A Lot To Learn" which Rob had played for me late last year when he had just completed it, and I was blown away by the unexpected direction his music was taking. Both an indictment and an appreciation of having a music career in this city, it's a beautiful, truthful song, and here with full accompaniment, sans drums, it really took off. It stunned the room into silence and I think everyone was impressed that there's a new, great band on the horizon. Bravo Rob and company.

As soon as I arrived home that night and turned on the TV, Watertown, Massachusetts was under siege, and the whole night took on that surreal quality that lasted well into the next night. The pastoral beauty of the Many Embers set contrasted with the anxiety and violent activity going on around Boston at the same time was a mind-fuck and I'm still not sure if my feet have landed back on the ground.


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