Sometimes you see a show that’s not just really good, but it really hits the spot: maybe it’s the relaxing show when you’re all wound up, or the difficult music when you’re feeling up for a challenge, or maybe it’s the Cubanos Postizos when I have a back spasm (…you’ll just have to trust me on that one). Whatever the case may be, tonight was one of those shows. I had a bizarre and sudden illness last week that had me ending up in Urgent Care with a prescription for some heavy-duty meds, leading to a long weekend spent in bed and missing no less than three concerts I was really looking forward to. Thankfully, I was able to get myself back in shape for tonight’s show, a guitar and vocal duo of Chris “Critter” Eldridge and Julian Lage at Passim in Cambridge. It turned out to be exactly the sort of fun, relaxed, easy-to-enjoy yet still top-notch-quality music that my slightly pathetic self desperately needed to hear. New and interesting enough to capture my attention completely, but familiar enough to be comfortable. Perhaps you’d like to listen to a piece from their new EP while you read? Check it out:
I’d seen the duo play a short set in January at the Deadly Gentlemen’s Ball, so I had a good idea of what to expect: serious technical mastery of the guitar, and some beautiful vocals. What I didn’t get from the previous show was the difference that a small, intimate venue can bring – front row in a ~100-capacity folk club as opposed to the balcony at a 500+ capacity venue makes a huge difference. The audience at Passim was fantastic, too – making a ton of noise at the exact right places (huge applause, cheering, standing ovation etc.) but being really respectful to the musicians while they played. And being so close to the band, I really felt the stage chemistry between the two guitarists – their intense focus on each other’s music was almost bordering on being a little unnerving. It is always a treat to see performers who so obviously enjoy playing together so much, and truly appreciate each other’s contributions.
Genre-wise, they veered between jazz, bluegrass, and maybe a bit of folk thrown in. Jazz and bluegrass have always seemed natural partners to me, and folk and bluegrass go well together too, so it all blended quite well. Some people – I won’t name any names, but you know who you are – seem to be allergic to earnestness in music, and would be downright embarrassed to admit liking folk or bluegrass; but for the musically unabashed like myself, it is really a breath of fresh air to see performers get up on stage and play their hearts out and just have fun without the self-consciousness, ego, or complex set of expectations that goes with being, say, a guitar player in a badass rock band, or a classical musician at the symphony. There’s a certain naivete to it – it’s the kind of music I liked as a little kid, before I knew anything about anything. It’s a beautiful thing, and if you don’t like it, well, I won’t invite you to any hootenannies 😉
Here’s a video I took featuring the more bluegrass side of their performance.
Their guitar prowess is undeniable, but I love Chris Eldridge’s singing, too. The tone of his vocals is unique and has a wonderful clarity to it. They did one piece, “Someone to Watch Over Me” (a jazz standard, in contrast to the bluegrass song above) where Chris put down his guitar and just focused on the singing – I thought it was beautiful. They performed this one when I saw them in January and I thought it was fantastic then, too. I was sitting close enough to read the setlist and made sure I had my camera running when they played it:
They described their original meeting, years ago, as “guitar-love at first sight,” and it’s pretty easy to understand why they’d use that phrase when you watch them perform songs like these together.
They’ll be performing together for the next few weeks up and down the east coast and in the midwest. (I’m toying with the idea of seeing them two nights in a row, if the 8PM set I have tickets for is over early enough!) You can check out their tour dates by clicking right here, and I guess it hardly needs saying that they come highly recommended!
LATE EDIT: If you happen to read this in the next few hours, they are doing a pay-what-you-want ($1 minimum) online broadcast of both sets tonight. Click here for the 7PM EST concert. Or click here for the 9:30PM EST concert.