PREVIEW: Sugartips Acoustic Duo

Weeks can go by so slowly in the dead of winter (although Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog told us we’ll see an early spring!). Let’s go listen to some music together.

MASH bar (located below the Blue Tractor restaurant, 211 E Washington St) is hosting infinitely cool acoustic duo Sugartips tomorrow night at 8. Order a whisky, rest your arms behind your head, and relax to some smooth acoustic hits. MASH also offers delectable snacks like nachos and sliders.

So come on down, everybody. Life is too short to not enjoy Wednesdays at least a little.



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.

PREVIEW: Howie Day

I listen to so much music that playlist attrition is a natural consequence. I get tired of songs eventually and clear them out to make room for other, newer, more exciting ones.

But there are a few songs that are exceptions, that are timeless enough to me that they stick on my playlists for years. Howie Day’s Collide is one of those songs. Five years after it originally landed on my iPod, back when I was 13 and my favorite genre of music was whatever was on the radio, the lyrics still speak to me.

“Even the best fall down sometimes, even the stars refuse to shine, out of the doubt that fills my mind, I somehow find you and I collide.”

Through middle school and high school and now college, those words have been with me. So when I saw Howie Day was coming to The Ark, I knew I had to go.

Day hasn’t released an album since 2015 because he spends so much time touring. I haven’t seen him in concert before, but he’s known for his innovative live arrangements and instrumentation, something that should play well at an intimate venue like The Ark.

Day isn’t the traditional folk artist usually associated with The Ark. Instead, his music is emotional acoustic guitar-based pop rock, similar to that of bands like The Fray. If folk isn’t really your thing but you want a fairly inexpensive local concert at a great venue, he’s worth checking out.

Howie Day comes to The Ark with opening act Shane Piasecki, another acoustic pop singer-songwriter, this Sunday, December 3, at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $20 at The Ark, at the Michigan Union Ticket Office, or online at

REVIEW: The Milk Carton Kids

I thought when I went to The Ark for Tuesday’s Milk Carton Kids show that I was getting a low-key acoustic show. I got that, but also so much more. At times funny, ridiculous, and bittersweet, The Milk Carton Kids and their opener Sammy Miller and the Congregation defied description in a concert I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

The name Sammy Miller and the Congregation sounds like a throwback to the Jazz Age, but theirs wasn’t a traditional jazz show. In fact, they told us, they were banned from the genre of jazz for reasons that were implied to be related to their production of a “jopera:” a jazz opera that eschewed any genre. The band incorporated theatrical elements, humor, and even a little pop music into their set. Their jopera was weird and wonderful, incorporating costumes, singing, and even a nonsensical storyline (an essential part of any opera). They engaged the audience, sometimes leaving stage and returning via the seats, as actors often do. I’m still not sure how to describe what I saw, but I know I was entertained.

The Milk Carton Kids, a duo consisting of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan, couldn’t have been more different in style and substance from their opener. Their sole instruments were two acoustic guitars. They wore suits and stood around one mic while they performed a set of mostly melancholy folk songs. But they, too, injected a surprising amount of humor into their set in their pre-song introductions.

At the beginning of the set, for instance, Kenneth confessed that he was watching the World Series on a device hidden in his bag (I don’t blame him). That joke recurred throughout, and there were times when Joey would start introducing a song and Kenneth would stand at the back of the stage, tuning his guitar and clearly peering into his bag. The whole audience was laughing at their intros, which were at turns funny, awkward, and self-effacing. It was an odd juxtaposition; it was almost as if they were performing a comedy show in between their folk concert.

The music itself was entertaining for very different reasons. I was impressed by the band’s harmonies, particularly on their slower songs. The intimate setup of The Ark and the songs’ sparse arrangements really brought out those harmonies. One song I particularly enjoyed was “I Only See the Moon,” a song from their upcoming album. Their penultimate song “Michigan” was also a highlight. Luckily, they were lying when they sang “Michigan’s in the rearview mirror” and came out for an encore.

I also enjoyed listening to the lyrics of the songs they played. Many were about traditional topics of contemporary folk, such as melancholy memories and places of the past, but others were political or even happy and upbeat. I allowed myself to sit back and get lost in the imagery of the lyrics, something that’s not possible at other types of concerts.

Though the Milk Carton Kids aren’t the kind of band I regularly listen to, and their concert wasn’t the kind of concert I usually attend, I was glad I went. The music was beautiful and the spoken interludes were entertaining. I’d never seen anything like this concert before, and I have a feeling I won’t ever again. But I’ll remember every bit: the humor and the harmonies, the beautiful and the weird.

REVIEW: The Ark Open Stage (Open Mic)

The only way to go to an open mic is to go open-minded. What I immediately liked about the Ark was that it had a much more open atmosphere than more traditional open mic venues like coffee shops.

Bradley playing “Strange”

The emcee for the night drew 15 names out of a star-covered bucket and the first performer, Bradley, came to the stage. Dressed like any other run-of-the-mill Ann Arbor hipster, he explained that he hadn’t expected to play. Then he belted out two incredibly well-crafted songs on guitar, harmonica, and piano that sounded polished enough to be heard on the radio.

Not everyone who came to the stage was polished, but they didn’t have to be. A guitarist named Max belted out his original “Snow in July” that sounded great as a raw, unfinished sound.

One of the pairs of the night, Remington Taylor, performed using only the piano as an accompaniment to their voices, and they were magnetic. Their songs of heartbreak and romance was in the vein of Once and Begin Again, but without an acoustic guitar.

Which brings me to the caveat about this event: come expecting to hear a lot of acoustic guitar and heartbreaking ballads. One song was title “Heart Shattered Like My Bones”–about a boy of course. The girl who announced did so with a “haha it’s dramatic I know I didn’t really mean it–but seriously that’s how I felt” vibe.

Even though each performer only had eight minutes, seeing and hearing acoustic pieces again and again started to sound a bit repetitive.


open-stage-2Then a young strapping lad named Kellen Marceau took the stage and sang his original pieces “Your Boyfriend” and “What if We Broke Up and Zombies Came.” Think Zooey Deschanel writing a break up song except weirder–and funnier.

Overall, open stage is not a bad way to spend your night, especially when it’s raining outside and the cost of admission is only $2. If you’re going though, I recommend that you don’t play acoustic guitar.


REVIEW: Brett Dennen at the Blind Pig

Seeing any show at the Blind Pig, known for bringing relatively famous acts to Ann Arbor, is bound to be an experience.

Even before the opening act took the stage, the place was filled with people ranging from the minors on one side of me to the thirty/forty something couple on the other side. There were no fans running and little ventilation, so people were shedding outer layers like crazy as we waited.

Then Lily & Madeleine took the stage. As the couple next to me put it so well:

“Are they sisters?”

“I don’t know, but they’re cute as pie”


A quick Google search for this blog confirmed that they are in fact sisters hailing from Indiana, and they are definitely Midwestern–from “almost went to U of M” to writing a song about the city of Chicago.

The announcer mistakenly announced the venue as the Ark, and Lily & Madeleine’s music would have been a much better fit for that more relaxed atmosphere. I enjoyed listening to their music–I’m downloading a couple albums Flume as I write this–but the acoustic and piano-heavy set was probably not the way to go opening for Brett Dennen at the Blind Pig.

The audience was one of rudest I’ve ever experienced. As you can probably hear in this video, it was hard to hear the music over the sound of everything talking and making noise. Most people weren’t paying attention to Lily & Madeleine, and one woman next to me kept texting in a phone that was on full brightness. It would have been one thing if the music was bad, but Lily & Madeleine proved themselves to be talented artists that didn’t deserve such a treatment.

Luckily the crowd calmed down by the time Brett took the stage.

Somehow Brett Dennen turned 36 the day of the concert, even though he looks like he stopped aging after 25. Brett’s boyish looks and figure make his music all the more endearing. Switching between two acoustic guitars, his crooned slower favorites like “Ain’t No Reason” and “Where We Left Off.” For the faster numbers, he brought out the electric guitar and shredded the heck out of it.


The crowd sang along to hits like “Wild Child,” “Comeback Kid,” and my personal favorite “Make You Crazy.” Singers like Brett Dennen make it impossible to stand in the crowd and not shake your head or shake your hips along to the music. Performers like Brett know when to point the microphone out to the audience, when to stand at the very front of the stage and jam with his tongue out, and when to take a break and ask the audience for their birthdays.

I freely admit that I am only a casual Brett Dennen fan, but I could easily become of the devoted fans that sang along to every one of his songs at the concert if I let myself. If you get a chance to see Brett in concert, I highly recommend it.