REVIEW: Mo Lowda and the Humble

I sat down to write this review and realized I didn’t even know how to begin.

I pulled out my notebook, normally filled to the brim with detailed notes about each song. But this time, my notes were sparse, the specifics absent.

That’s the effect this show had on me.

The Quiet Hollers and Mo Lowda and the Humble — two little-known and criminally underrated indie bands — served as dual headliners. Both played for about an hour, and unlike some other groups I’ve seen at The Ark, they didn’t do a lot of talking in between songs in their set. Instead, they let the music speak for itself.

“This is a song you can dance to,” the lead singer of The Quiet Hollers said while introducing his song Medicine. “It’s about panic disorder.”

That sentence was a good summation of their set. The band’s lyrics referenced social issues ­— toxic masculinity, the prison-industrial complex — and mental illness. But their sound was loud and full. Their instruments were typical of those used in a rock band, except for one thing: they had a violinist.

The violin added depth to many of their numbers, and its parts were often the highlight of their numbers for me. The unique acoustics of The Ark only added to the experience.

Watching Mo Lowda and the Humble was like watching a jam session. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a band get more physically into their music. So it’s no surprise that their instrumental breaks were the highlight of their set. They also varied the vibe of their songs — playing something louder and harder one minute, and a more mellow, acoustic piece the next. The variation added depth to their show. Not all bands can make both loud and soft stuff work; Mo Lowda and the Humble could.

Normally, this is the place where I’d describe my favorite songs from both sets or where I’d do in-depth analysis on their structure or lyricism. But that’s the thing. I enjoyed the show so much that the idea that I had to write down the details slipped my mind. By the time I realized, it was too late. I can’t tell you why I enjoyed each part of the set, only that I did. That I enjoyed it so much, I neglected my duties as a reviewer.

The thing about music is that it’s easy to get lost in it. Sometimes I sit down fully intending to do homework, but I make the mistake of putting on a good song first. I get wrapped up in the harmonies and carried away by the melodies. And when it’s live, that effect is only magnified. I was sitting there for two and a half hours, my sole job to watch this concert and review it. Take some notes. Remember which songs I liked. But I forgot what music does, and I got lost.

And that’s the best compliment I could give.

PREVIEW: Mo Lowda

Senior year of high school, a friend texted me a Spotify link.

This was par for the course with this particular friend; we had similar music tastes and we would always send each other the songs we obsessed over. This time, he sent me a song I had never heard of: Curse the Weather by Mo Lowda and the Humble.

So I put on my headphones and gave the song a listen. I figured it would be the traditional indie rock we both listened to. I was wrong.

Curse the Weather was, and still is, one of the most unique songs on my playlists and I love it. I love the guitar riff that makes up most of the chorus. I love the lyrics — “I always listen to the optimistic spirit in me” is always running through my head. I love Mo Lowda’s raspy voice.

So, as has happened several times this year, I was browsing through the calendar for The Ark when I saw an artist I recognized.

A band I know and like at my favorite venue in town? Sign me up.

Mo Lowda and the Humble — with opening act The Quiet Hollers, an indie songwriter band who sing about the social landscape — will bring a different sound to The Ark than the venue is traditionally associated with. That’s my favorite thing about The Ark — even if I know the band, I’ve learned that I never really know what to expect. Every show is unique, and every show leaves me in awe.

Mo Lowda and the Humble with The Quiet Hollers come to The Ark tomorrow, March 26, at 8 PM. Tickets are $15 online, at The Ark or at the Michigan Union Ticket Office.

REVIEW: The Timbre of Cedar

The Ark never fails to bring a night of wonderful, fun, and meaningful music — even on a Wednesday night. Last night was no exception.

Right off the bat, shoeless, self-proclaimed goofball Chris DuPont opened the stage with honest music, many of which haven’t been performed before, that touched on subjects from forgiveness to violence, from a loving lullaby for his children to encouraging a liberating internal rebellion. The mix of acoustic guitar with violin — more specifically, the mix of the artistry of DuPont and Katie Van Dusen — created a one-of-a-kind sound, as Van Dusen’s violin voice accompanied DuPont’s own voice in a mesmerizing way. This raw, organic performance proved exactly why he was ranked as the #1 live album on Ann Arbor’s 107one best album countdown of 2017.

And with that opening, The Timbre of Cedar took the stage, continuing the powerful energy that DuPont so beautifully set up. With married couple Marrissa and Sam Parham on keys/lead vocals and bass, twins Andrew and Eric Grzyb on guitar and percussion, and Alex Rahill on guitar, The Timbre of Cedar’s sincere love for music, life, and the future radiated off the stage with every note sung, every string strum, and every beat tapped on the cajón. Focusing on hope and restoring the light (as their newest full-length album is called), their songs, with religious undertones, reflected an optimistic outlook on life that everyone should carry.

Usually an indie rock band, the acoustic spin they took last night was no less electrifying. Marrissa’s vocals rang through the room, and Rahill had a rocking solo on his acoustic guitar on their cleverly-named song “F Sharp”. Singing originals off their EP and Restoring the Light, and even a rendition of “If I Ain’t Got You” (because who doesn’t love classic love songs), the band captured the tension underlying reality while shining a ray of hope onto the unknown possibilities through the fiery acoustic instrumentals that were bursting out of their souls and into the audience’s.

The room in The Ark was filled with good vibes in the middle of the week, from DuPont’s “sad” yet insightful songs followed by The Timbre of Cedar’s inspirational message of perseverance, hope, and belonging. When given the option between listening to these rising musicians or studying, I’m sure glad I spent my Wednesday night the right way.

PREVIEW: The Timbre of Cedar

From the Metro Detroit area, The Timbre of Cedar is coming to Ann Arbor to conquer the stage at The Ark. This 5 member alternative indie band is bringing their unique sound to the music scene. Strong vocalist Marrissa Parham will tantalize the stage with the soulful lyrics and emotions this band passionately evokes. With songwriter Chris DuPont opening, the night is bound to be one to remember.

8:00 PM. January 17. The Ark. Be there.

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at http://theark.org/shows-events/2018/jan/17/timbre-cedar or at the Michigan Union Ticket Office. This event is also free with a Passport to the Arts voucher! All the more reason to go!

 

REVIEW: Howie Day

Watching Howie Day perform was like a little kid watching a magic show.

During the climax of his opening number, “Sorry So Sorry,” he stopped playing his guitar altogether. But the music still resonated throughout the room, a full, sonorous sound that sounded like it could not possibly have come from one instrument. Was he using prerecorded music in his show? That seemed antithetical to not only what I had heard about Day’s live shows but to the venue itself, a place dedicated to stripped-down acoustic performances.

It took a few songs before I realized what he was doing. He would play a simple melody, sing a refrain, and tap out beats on the base of his guitar. He recorded it all, then layered the sounds together as he was performing to create a backing track of sorts. His flawless looping, the way he developed harmonies there on the spot using only his voice and his guitar, had to be seen to be believed.

Even after the show ended, “Sorry So Sorry” stuck with me. It was more than just the layering and looping. Day’s performance of the song was incredibly emotional and raw, something a lot of live performances lack. He took a page from the musical theatre playbook when he hit a high note with precision, then held it for several beats and let his vibrato take over. He then utilized the reverb pedal so that the sound echoed throughout the room, a move that was especially powerful in such a small venue.

Day also showcased his creativity and adaptability when unexpected trouble struck. In the middle of a performance of “Disco,” a string on his guitar broke. Because he didn’t have a backing band or a stage crew, he had to go backstage and fix it himself. When it became clear that he couldn’t finish the song, he tapped out a rhythm on his guitar and sang a small refrain from the song, then put it on repeat for the audience while he went tended to his instrument. He came back and finished the song to raucous applause.

Unlike many artists I’ve seen at The Ark, Day did very little talking in between numbers, opting to instead let the music speak for itself. He did, however, utilize musical interludes where he would layer sound upon sound, sometimes incorporating whistling or even his own whispers for a greater effect. Those interludes were as breathtaking as they were unexpected — most do not appear on his albums, and his appearance as “white man with acoustic guitar” doesn’t invoke images of innovative instrumentation.

The unexpectedness of Day’s set was part of what made it more magical. He combined the best parts of an arena concert — epic instrumentals and a sense of getting lost in the moment — with the intimacy and emotion of a small venue.

Day saved his biggest hit, “Collide,” for his final encore, opting for a more stripped-down arrangement of the song that made him famous. In holding off on “Collide,” Day was able to show the audience all he could do, then allow them to sit back and enjoy a song they already knew and loved, the cherry on top of a night I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

REVIEW: The Verve Pipe

The sold-out show last night at The Ark was sold out for all the right reasons. The Verve Pipe’s performance was one of the best concerts I’ve seen, hands down.

In an age where much of the top hits are auto-tuned and live concerts expose artists for their true skills, it was definitely a heartwarming treat to hear The Verve Pipe sound exactly like they do on their records—if not better, as the power and passion radiated off the stage in a way no CD could ever justly capture.

Brian Vander Ark’s voice was tantalizing, and I’m sure it was just as beautiful and magical back in the 90s when the band first formed. He didn’t seem to have aged one bit, bringing a charisma and energy to every note he sang, whether he belted it out powerfully and held it for ages or whispered it with a rawness that touched the soul.

With Lou Musa on guitar, Brad Philips (who is a University of Michigan SMTD grad—Go Blue!) on violin, Channing Lee on tambourine and backup vocals, Joel Ferguson on bass, Randy Sly on keyboard and accordion, and Sam Briggs on drums, The Verve Pipe captivated the entire room with its spunk and rock. Musa and Philips had some unbelievable solos that just blew everyone away, and Lee’s soft yet powerhouse vocals beautifully complemented Vander Ark’s, with her occasional moments to show everyone what she’s got. Mark Byerly made several guest appearances on trumpet as well, which was just a cherry on top for a stage filled with incredibly talented musicians.

The band seemed to be having a wonderful time, smiling and laughing and rocking on stage, and the audience was absolutely loving it. This crowd of old-school fans definitely were past their youth, but the old hits brought out this energy in them that was just as youthful and lively. The ability for this 90s band to hold such a loyal and excited fan base is a true testament to the music they have created—music that continues to evoke emotions that never die with time, and the band’s continued presence by touring and creating new albums even today ensures their fan base is ever-expanding, which now includes yours truly.

I surprised myself by knowing almost all the words to 90% of the songs played, as I didn’t realize just how much I’ve listened to The Verve Pipe since I first stumbled upon them back in September. With the top 13 requested songs in the first half, pieces from their newer albums in the second, and encores that only left everyone screaming for more, the entire night was filled with enjoyable, quality music that is rare to find today.

One of my favorite moments was during their hit song, The Freshmen. They performed the original version as Vander Ark and Musa took the stage with this raw classic. Everyone was singing along from the beginning, and there was a moment when the chorus came around where Vander Ark stopped singing and let the crowd carry the song. It was so pure and powerful and beautiful, and Vander Ark was clearly touched by it. I’d be lying if I said tears didn’t come to my eyes during that moment.

The Verve Pipe was everything I imagined them to be live, and more. In an unforgettable night, I suffered a pop smear so great, I would be more than happy to “suffer” again and again with this group of humble, talented, just absolutely amazing people.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to The Verve Pipe some more as I’m sure I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.