On Thursday I went to see a show at Cafe 939 in Boston, featuring Ruston Kelly (solo), Sean Rowe (solo) and Marcus Foster (with his band). I had seen Sean Rowe do a short opening set last year in Cambridge, and I really liked him; he was the reason I was attending this concert. I hadn’t heard the other performers before.
Cafe 939 is in many ways an excellent music venue – it’s run largely by students from Berklee College of Music, which can give it a bit of an amateur feel, but the sound and lighting is really good, and it’s overall a nice place to see a show as long as you do not require much in the way of refreshments. It’s all-ages and alcohol-free, and you have to go outside into the cafe part to get water or juice.
Ruston Kelly was the first act, and I was very pleasantly surprised by his performance. Usually the first of three bands in a $15 concert is someone you’d rather skip over – but when he started singing, I was immediately glad that I’d come early enough to see him. He is a very good singer with a nice voice (and I give him bonus points for having Robert Frost poetry written on his guitar). He’s quite young (early 20s) but I think he might be someone to keep an eye on. He is already writing some pretty good songs and I imagine he’ll only get better from here.
You can download his album for free (or pay a few bucks if you want) right here: http://noisetrade.com/rustonkelly
Sean Rowe was up next, and the first song he did was “Signs” from his latest album “The Salesman and the Shark.” It just happens to be one of my very favorite songs he’s written, so I managed to get my camera out of my pocket in time to film almost the whole song:
I absolutely love that deep voice he has. And he’s been writing some seriously good songs lately. He played a really solid set overall, I enjoyed it very much. Like the other time I saw him, he played a Leonard Cohen cover to close out his set – last time it was “Bird On A Wire,” this time it was “Chelsea Hotel No. 2.” His voice is perfect for singing Cohen songs, he really gives them the weight and depth that they need. I am already looking forward to seeing him again at Passim’s in June. (He is doing quite a bit of touring in the US and UK in the next few months, so check his tour schedule and see if he’ll be in your neighborhood!)
Marcus Foster was the headliner (I always feel a little awkward showing up to a concert where I’ve never heard of the headliner, but such is the life of a concert blogger). He had a surprising amount of fangirls in the audience – I never quite figured that out. I thought his set started out a bit blah – not as authentic or interesting to me as Sean Rowe had been, certainly. But after a couple of songs he loosened up a little and started to sing like he meant it, and showed us that he had a damn good voice and knew how to use it. Some highlights of his set included a killer solo cover of Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings” and his own single “I Was Broken”. See a nice live version of that here:
I picked up one of his albums, but haven’t had time to listen yet – I’ll be interested to see if his studio work holds up as well as the live performance. I liked his set quite a bit in the end, but I felt like some of the songs were a bit generic. It’s kind of tough to seem unique as a guitar-playing singer/songwriter when you come on stage right after two other guitar-playing singer/songwriters, I guess.
The highlight of the whole night for me was the encore. All three singers – Sean Rowe, Ruston Kelly and Marcus Foster – got their acoustic guitars and came down into the audience right next to me to sing a three-way harmony arrangement of a Tom Waits song, “That Feel.” I love me some Tom Waits, so that was a really nice cover to hear – and they absolutely nailed it! I’ll let you pick which one to listen to… the “official” semi-professionally recorded Youtube video (click here) or the one I did, which has good sound, lots of energy, and features the back of Ruston Kelly’s shoulder quite a bit (click here).
Check back soon for my review of the Underscore Orkestra, I saw them last night and they were fantastic!