I’m not sure how it happened, but despite the fact that Erin McKeown has been recording for more than a decade, and has made numerous stops in Nippertown over the years, I’d never actually seen her in concert.
I made up for that oversight last Thursday at The Linda in Albany, and I’m still asking myself, “Well, what took ya so long?”
McKeown is a spunky performer with a natural charm. She’s also a little woman with a great big that capable of embracing everything from nursery rhyme blues (“Blackbirds”) to ballads (“James!”). She sang about sex (“Le Petite Mort,” “A Taste of You”), drugs (a woozy treatment of Fats Waller’s “If You’re a Viper”) and jazz (Blossom Dearie’s signature “Rhode Island Is Famous for You”).
Her newer, as-yet-unreleased material, however, was spiked with a strong streak of rap, and the best of it shuffled through hip-hop with a finger-snapping, beatnik beat. And it was the strongest music of the night. An intriguing and captivating performer, McKeown was part Ani DiFranco, part Nellie McKay and thoroughly herself.
She carried most of the night on hollowbody electric guitar, and she played hard, with an undeniable groove. But she seemed to be most enjoying herself when she switched over to the grand piano – a luxury that she doesn’t likely have at most of the venues on her touring circuit.
Winterpills stripped down to their bare essence – just guitarist-vocalist Philip Price and vocalist Flora Reed – for a haunting opening set that focused on selections from their brand new EP, “Tuxedo of Ashes.” Occasionally Reed would chime in – literally – with a bit of a glockenspeil solo on such tunes as she did on the opening eulogy, “Are You Sleeping (Cinnamon, Cardamom, Lithium)?”
The duo offered nuggets from their catalog – the mid-set pairing of “June Eyes” and “Hankerchiefs” was especially potent – a sneak peek at several as yet unreleased selections that proved that the Northampton band isn’t resting on its laurels.
And they wrapped up their 45-minute opening set with a lush, anthemic rendition of “Tuxedo of Ashes,” building toward a cathartic climax with the addition of McKeown (piano, vocals) and Matthew Carefully (mandolin, vocals), both of whom also joined in on the original recording.
ERIN McKEOWN SET LIST
The Taste of You
The Queen of Quiet
Rhode Island Is Famous For You
Born to Hum
If You’re a Viper
Le Petite Mort
WINTERPILLS SET LIST
Are You Sleeping (Cinnamon, Cardamom, Lithium)?
The Ballad of the Anxious Decoder
Tuxedo of Ashes (with Erin McKeown, Matthew Carefully)
Related stories: Winterpills CD review; Winterpills concert review @ The Linda, 2009; Winterpills concert review @ Valentine’s, 2009; Philip Price, What Was the First Record You Ever Bought?; Flora Reed, What Was the First Album You Ever Bought?