Sunday, October 21, 2007
“I was sleeping” … with those three words, Storyhill launched into what may very well be the ultimate Weber Music Hall performance.
If nothing else, the Bozeman, Mont., duo’s 20-song set last Thursday at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s nearly $10 million concert hall was an essential concertgoing experience — and deserves to be dissected by, at the very least, a self-described music geek/obsessive fanboy.
If ever there were a perfect match for the unreal acoustics at Weber, it would be Storyhill.
Harmony-wise, these Montana boys can’t be beat. What they accomplish with only their acoustic guitars and golden voices puts every other duo to shame and, lyrically, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone offended by Storyhill’s songs about rivers, streams and crisp mountain air. (Although, it should be noted, “Wow, this is probably the edgiest group Weber has ever hosted” was my favorite joke of the night ... my dad laughed, but I’m sure he was just being nice.)
So, now that I’ve effectively showcased how gaga I get whenever there’s even the slightest mention of Storyhill, let’s get on to the show.
From the opener “Somewhere in Between” (from 1995’s “Clearing”), the group tackled a few more “golden oldies,” “New Year’s” and “Good Rain” — essentially easing longtime fans into a set that leaned heavily on material from last year’s self-titled album.
This is important to note, as “Storyhill” marked a significantly brighter approach to songwriting for Chris Cunningham and Johnny Hermanson. (Within the confines of Storyhill, that is. Hermanson, in particular, has been known to write They Might Be Giants-worthy tracks like “80s Party” when he’s going it alone.)
It’s not that Storyhill’s back catalog isn’t without its fair share of upbeat tunes — “Loose Summer Clothes” and “Worst Enemy” quickly come to mind — but those don’t seem to be played as much anymore.
And, while I can’t speak for those aforementioned Storyhill lifers (as “Storyhill” was my introduction to the band), I found the newer material to be the night’s undisputed highlights.
For me, perennial fan favorites like “Old Sea Captain” and “Mary on the Mountain” paled in comparison to the robust, Jayhawks-esque newbies like “Blazing Out of Sight” and “Happy Man.” In fact, when those two were played back to back, I distinctly recalled the words I chose to open my review of “Storyhill” last fall: “It takes less than a minute to fall in love with Storyhill.”
In addition to the memorable performances, Cunningham and Hermanson also filled the night with some surprisingly memorable onstage banter. They were as jovial as ever — Cunningham kept referring to the venue’s audio technician as “sound buddy,” and Hermanson quipped that ex-girlfriends are his biggest source of inspiration – but it was Cunningham who really drove it home.
As a way to introduce the heart-wrenching “Paradise Lost,” which examines how overdevelopment is destroying the green spaces we all enjoyed as kids, he made a few choice comments about Duluth’s Beacon Point Condominiums.
While the songwriter didn’t want to get “too negative” or start a political debate, he struck a raw nerve with yours truly: If a musician that only passes through town two or three times a year notices what a public blight Duluth has on its hands, why isn’t more being done to protect our city’s treasured assets?
Other than those few offhanded comments — which were, more than anything, just brief departures back into reality — the group moved seamlessly from one flawlessly orchestrated arrangement to the next.
There were also a few surprises thrown in for good measure. Hermanson previewed a new song (“Better Angels”); the group resurrected “Full Circle” from Cunningham’s Sixth Sense days and, in an encore that would incorporate “If I Could,” “Stillwater” and “Steady On,” the group asked the audience if there was anything else they wanted to hear.
That easy-going nature, and the magic that is the Storyhill canon — combined with the unbeatable sound environment at Weber, of course — made for quite the night.
The set list for Storyhill's performance at Weber Music Hall is available at www.areavoices.com/mperrine (on Matthew R. Perrine's blog, "Fly High, Duluth!").
This concert review originally appeared in the Oct. 21, 2007, issue of the Duluth Budgeteer News. It can be found on the paper's Web site at www.duluthbudgeteer.com/articles/index.cfm?id=20994. (Image cutline: Storyhill’s Chris Cunningham and Johnny Hermanson. Matthew R. Perrine/Budgeteer News.)
Saturday, October 14, 2006
It takes less than a minute to fall in love with Storyhill. Forty-eight seconds into “Give Up the Ghost,” the lead-off track on the duo’s new self-titled release, it becomes painfully obvious that these guys aren’t just the pride of Bozeman, but of the entire state of Montana.
Trading folk and rock passages back and forth a la early records by the Jayhawks, Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson have crafted a timeless sound. Supercharged by the production of Semisonic’s Dan Wilson, though, and the two have crafted a timeless sound that won’t go unnoticed.
So much so, in fact, that the group is currently contending major distribution offers. In consequence, this brilliant self-released gem will only be available at their shows until they’re officially superstars.
Storyhill will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, at the Scottish Rite Temple. Justin Roth opens. Cost is $17 ($12 for students). For details, visit www.storyhill.com.
Leaning more on the adult contemporary side of the folk spectrum, Edie Carey dangerously walks the line between schmaltz and authenticity.
That’s not to say that the songs on her latest album, “Another Kind of Fire,” should immediately be disregarded, but songs like “Hollywood Ending” could easily provide the soundtrack to a delicate, slow-moving crane shot in any given teen drama — in early a.m. glow, no less.
In fact, “sentimental” is a word that doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling Carey chases. Too harsh? Hardly. The album’s liner notes include special thanks for “soft beds, hot meals, babies for the holding and late-night chats” — this music is only for the faint of heart.
Edie Carey will perform at 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, at Beaner’s Central. Rachael Kilgour is also on the bill. Cost is $8. For details, visit www.ediecarey.com.
Even in her quietest moments, Chris Pureka exudes a magnificent presence.
“Dryland,” her follow-up to 2004’s “Driving North,” presents another journey onto itself. While “Intro” may flow like a gentle stream, it belies the fact that this isn’t just another delicate folk record. It’s more than that; it’s rustic because, like Pureka’s voice, the songs are a little rough around the edges.
Following an entrenching cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything is Free,” “Compass Rose” is really this album’s shining hour. Wrapped around some curious guitar noodling, upright bass, banjo and fiddle coalesce to lead listeners back to a different time.
Somewhere this song should be playing on a midnight train rolling across moonlit rolling hills in the high plains of Wyoming. One can only imagine that, if Charlie Parr was listening right now, he’d be smiling.
Chris Pureka will perform at 8 p.m. Oct. 26 at Carmody’s Irish Pub. Jerree Small will also perform. No cost. For details, visit www.chrispureka.com.
These reviews originally appeared in the Oct. 15, 2006, issue of the Duluth Budgeteer News. They can be found on the paper's Web site at www.duluthbudgeteer.com/articles/index.cfm?id=19044.