I was only a kid when Ani DiFranco first exploded onto the indie folk scene, but by the time I was in high school, she was as relevant and powerful as ever to me as a budding female guitarist and singer.
Recently, when I heard that she would be touring through a nearby city, I jumped at the opportunity to see her live for the first time. (Note: “Jumped” in that my girlfriend surprised me with the tickets and I literally jumped.)
Opening for her September 27th performance at Durham’s Carolina Theater was Pearl and the Beard, a three-piece indie folk band based out of Brooklyn. I discovered—and fell in love with—Pearl and the Beard nearly a year ago when I first saw them live, and have since learned every word to their first two albums, God Bless Your Weary Soul, Amanda Richardson and Killing the Darlings.
For this performance, the band played more new songs than old, giving established fans a sneak peak of what’s to come on their forthcoming album and, undoubtedly, recruiting fans who’ve not yet heard their incredible three-part vocal harmonies, witnessed their energetic and emotive live performances, or experienced their warm and upbeat, yet sometimes powerfully dark and melancholy music.
The band’s instrumentation lends itself to compositions that weave in and out of multiple genres, even within the same song. Once entirely acoustic, Pearl and the Beard is now incorporating more electronic influences, contributing to a somewhat darker sound than on their previous albums.
Jeremy Styles plays a semi-hollow body Guild with an array of effects pedals rather than strictly using his acoustic guitar. Emily Hope Price, the band’s sultry cellist, plays the keys on their newest single, “You.”
Nevertheless, one of my favorite parts of the band’s arrangement remains Jocelyn Mackenzie’s drum setup: a snare, bass, floor tom, cymbal, and bell kit sit center stage where she plays standing up. Whether or not you’re familiar with them, it’s virtually impossible not to get sucked into Pearl and the Beard’s performances. It’s also impossible not to admire just how awesome Jocelyn’s hair is.
As excited as the audience (and I!) was to see Pearl and the Beard, the energy in the room became absolutely palpable when Ani DiFranco took the stage and opened with “Which Side Are You On?” from her 2012 album of the same title.
The crowd hung on to her every word (and Ani fans, let’s face it, there are a lot of words…) for the entirety of her performance—singing along loudly to familiar songs and cheering at appropriate moments while listening intently to yet-to-be-recorded material. Predictably though, the crowd eventually began yelling out their requests for older tunes. Between songs, Ani graciously joked that she hadn’t had time since giving birth to her five-month-old son to re-learn the roughly “800+” songs she’s written during her career, so that unfortunately, she couldn’t just whip out any of her old songs on a dime.
But when she began to play “Napoleon,” the crowd roared and sang—if not screamed—along to that memorable chorus, “because everyone / is a fucking Napoleon.”
Adding to the energy of the performance was the accompaniment of Todd Sickafoose on upright bass and Terence Higgins on drums. If we hadn’t all been sitting down, I’m sure that everyone would have been dancing along to every song from the groove that the extra instruments added.
The acoustics in the Carolina Theater were absolutely pristine, and the warmth and interactivity between the performers and the audience made it feel like we all might as well have been onstage together making music. Although I’m sure the wine helped with that, too.
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Here’s Ani DiFranco performing “Which Side are You On?”
And here’s the audio for “You” by Pearl and the Beard
North Carolina musician and songwriter Kristen Stillwell is the sole member of a one-woman band called willower. Inspired by guitarists such as Kaki King for her use of open tunings and penchant for creating unconventional sounds with an acoustic guitar, and vocalists like Bjork, Kate Havnevik, and Jónsi (Sigur Rós), willower melds an eclectic musical palette to create dreamy soundscapes with guitar and vocal loops that dance in stereo. Her debut album, “For whatever we lose,” was released in early 2013 and can be heard here: willower.bandcamp.com