by Avery Luke
It was a convincing tweet. As an admittedly recent but nonetheless devout Car Seat Headrest fan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see frontman Will Toledo’s friends from William & Mary College perform as Naked Days. But regardless, who doesn’t love a bit of “Folk/Rock with a ‘soft edge’” on a Wednesday evening?
Broken at Best, http://soundcloud.com/broken-at-best
Broken at Best, a solo project by singer/songwriter Elijah Press, drew in the crowd with several intimate tracks strung together by smooth, acoustic interludes. The audience was initially few, but all were focused on Press’s unique vulnerability. With the first strum of “Maybe”, bar goers were captivated by the music, and eventually drifted toward the stage. Though Press’s abrupt and almost jarring facial contortions pictured above might seem antithetical to weaving together a diverse crowd, his passion further reinforced the relatability of his work. The venue echoed with bold sliding chords and clear vocals as the clamor of the bar tapered off into a low hum. Press boldly ended his sobering set with a larger crowd and some self-described “pop bubblegum bullshit,” which proved to be just as powerful as the music that preceded it. I appreciated the set as a whole for its lack of pretense— Press confidently took the stage wearing a Harry Potter t-shirt and clutching an acoustic guitar. Broken at Best’s subtle, but unmistakably powerful performance set the tone for a show which would continue to present more than just a soft-edge.
“That was a really sad song, at least for me— and not just because I biffed the first lyric,” Grumbles admitted, extracting a couple laughs from the crowd. The second opener drew upon a more contemporary indie sound, featuring electric chords layered using a looper pedal. Grumbles’ sound was no less distinct than that of Broken at Best, but it did fill the familiar niche of a more ambient, electronic sound that seemed to appeal to the younger crowd. His transparent falsetto and impeccable range were undoubtedly appreciated, but “Arizona Rain”, a lengthy, instrumental “work in progress” was the highlight of Grumbles’ set.
Naked Days, nakeddays.bandcamp.com
When Naked Days took the stage, Amanda Schiano di Cola and Degnan Smith were welcomed by the crowd like old friends. Although the absence of bandmates John Huggins on the violin and Alistair Morgan on the cello resulted in a slightly less folk-y sound, Schiano di Cola and Smith took advantage of the opportunity to perform sans strings. The musical chemistry of the pair was undeniable from the start, setting the stage for an unforgettable performance. With Schiano di Cola on synth and Smith strumming guitar, the first segment of the set was a noteworthy affair with an electronic sound, complete with intentionally dissonant vocal layers. The two artists’ blend seemed to diversify not only with every combination of instruments, but also with each song. Smith swayed back and forth as Schiano di Cola eventually reached for her trumpet, playing out the set with some jazz-inspired pieces.
Though the openers were noteworthy, Naked Days was exceptional. During the set, I stood in the crowd next to Will Toledo himself, but we both simply watched the show as individuals captivated by the music. In my experience, the best small shows often manage to unify a crowd through the art itself, cutting the flair that can often overshadow the music in larger venues. Performances such as these can transform a crowd of supporters into lasting fans with a single set, and Naked Days managed to do just that.