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A night at Great Scott in Allston can either be extremely fruitful or somewhat of a letdown. The myriad of artists that the venue brings in come from all different backgrounds and types of experience. However, Thursday April 17 seemed to be promising, as the night would bring S. Carey of Bon Iver fame to the stage in addition to two talented openers.
Around 9:30, Tanner Connolly, the Boston University student behind Words Like Earth, took to a stage already crowded with an assortment of instruments. Standing there in a “Montana Grizz” sweatshirt with an acoustic guitar strapped to his chest, Connolly began to sing. The first song was “Rookery,” a new tune that the singer would perform at Great Scott for the first time. From the beginning, Connolly’s voice soared through the room, crystal clear and effortlessly floating into higher octaves.
Connolly’s performance gave way to the somewhat erratic Winter Hinderland, the solo act of Casey Dienel. Dienel brought comparisons of Ellie Goulding to mind, with her synth beats and soulful voice. However, her live performance at times bordered on chaotic, with so many beats and loops to her voice that it was hard to make out the lyrics or underlining melody. However, Dienel had a couple of standouts where her voice really shined, including “Ring the Bell” and “David,” the latter being much more of a ballad: heavy on the soul and short on the beats. When Dienel opted for more of this style, she became much more accessible to the audience, and therefore enjoyable.
Finally came S. Carey, the selling point for the night. S. Carey is the moniker for musician Sean Carey, who earned a following of his own during his time with Bon Iver as pianist and drummer. His first album All We Grow was released in 2010, made of material written during his time with Bon Iver on the road. Following this came Range of Light earlier this year, giving S. Carey a bit larger of a portfolio to choose from while performing live.
Although the material on both albums borders on ambient at times, S. Carey’s performance on Thursday night was surprisingly energetic. Beginning with “Glass/Film,” the first track from Range of Light, Carey’s band opened slowly, enfolding the audience into their performance.
The stage setup aided the sought after ambiance as well, set up à la Volcano Choir. The musicians were often in the dark, or at least not illuminated entirely for a majority of the performance. Instead, images and different shades of color were projected on a white/grey background, making the performance feel much more intimate within the already intimate Great Scott.
At times during the set, Carey got up to play the toms placed to the right of his Wurlitzer keyboard, which is often where most of the energy came from: the percussion. Carey’s band was set up in a semi-circle, starting with the band’s drummer on the left, arcing around to Carey himself seated at the very right of the stage. The interaction with Carey and his drummer was phenomenal. Their constant awareness allowed the two to play off of each other during songs like “Mothers” and “Crown the Pines.”
A standout number of the show was a B-side entitled “Chrysalis,” which came as a surprise to most audience members. The track differed mainly because of the presence of the pedal steel guitar solo captained by keyboardist Ben Lester. While Range of Light as an album feels more like a concept, one meant to paint the majesty of mountains covered in pines and slithering rivers, S. Carey’s live performances take on a bit more spontaneity, allowing the markedly different “Chrysalis” and presence of pedal steel to not feel out of place during the middle of the set.
Up next was a crowd favorite “In the Dirt” from All We Grow. Though Carey’s vocals were slow and smooth as usual, the piano worked up a certain kind of energy. While Carey’s live performances lack the clarinet, violin, and other instrumental backup that the albums boast, the full band Carey tours with is still incredibly satisfying.
Toward the end of the show, Carey called White Hinterland’s Nielen up to the stage again. “This is a song by a small Icelandic lady who we all love named Björk,” said Carey, before plunking out the first few chords of “Unravel.” Nielen provided vocals, seeming more in her element than ever. Her performance was calm yet emotional in a way faithful to Björk’s shy presence, yet with some of the same attitude seen on the stage just an hour earlier.
Nielen departed once more, while Carey and his drummer switched places for “Never Ending Fountain,” the last track on Range of Light. On the album, the sound of feet crunching on snow opens the song in a sort of soundscape with rhythm. The same opening was produced here by Lester who was responsible for recreating all of the different rustic textures that distinguish Carey’s music making.
It was a fitting bookend to the show, climaxing to what some have likened to the end of a rock opus. The back and forth between the two percussionists ebbed and flowed, swelling several times to greater and greater heights before finally closing out in a giant burst. And then suddenly, it was over. The stage emptied, and people looked around blinking. That’s the power S. Carey has, the power to draw you in, until you’re powerless and bound to the music.