Smile Politely

Show Review: John Vanderslice (04/17/08) – The Canopy Club

With all the scenesters I see walking around campus, I was very surprised when I walked into the Canopy to find this show in the Void Room, or, their front bar area. An indie-rock veteran like John Vanderslice who has released a string of excellent and critically adored solo albums since the start of the new millennium should have packed the place, but since finger wagging won’t get people out to shows, I’ll just move on.

There was a strong but small crowd though, last night. At first it seemed that most people were there to support opening act, an artist with ties to the C-U community, Jared Bartman. He is a young looking fella that wears the underage “U” on his right hand like all the rest of us not old enough to drink, but he and his band played his songs like they have been doing it for years.

Finger picking through most of his songs, except when he picked up an accordion, he gave the title of each song before he played making it easy to pick out some of the highlights of the set like “I Wanted Out” and the solo “Alice.” His songs had a strong Beatles influence, specifically from the period when they were listening to a lot of Bob Dylan, but Bartman really brought the songs into his own, adding a quasi-European flare by including clarinet, bass clarinet, keyboard and then, drums and floor bongos to the timbre of the sound. He even did a song in French. The crowd really ate it up, and at one point Bartman noted that he knew a lot of people in the room, but still, his music was worth the applause.

Next was John Vanderslice, and it turns out that everything you have ever read about this guy is true. He is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. If you get the chance to talk to him personally, his charms will immediately rest any apprehensions or preconceived notions of all musicians being jerks. I even feel like I can address him just by his first name now.

So, I had never seen John play live before so seeing his four man band set up with violin, drums/electronics, keyboard/Wurlitzer, and John fronting with guitar got me very excited. Part of the excitement was also probably coming from the fact that I hadn’t been to a show in a while where I would know all the songs. And because no one was going to leave a $15 dollar show after the opener, the whole crowd stuck around to find out what John is about. Although he may not be a master guitar player by any means, he is one of the best pop/rock songwriters and lyricists alive, delivering a set that showcased a collection of his tunes from throughout his solo albums, all delivered professionally and with a fresh energy.

Then, at the end of the set, he did something I have never taken part of in a show. John took the roomful of fans out into the atrium right outside the front doors of the building to perform an acoustic set with a reconfigured band. If he hadn’t won over the crowd of fresh ears by the end of the first set, the acoustic serenade with minimal accompaniment certainly did it. It was a very intimate sitting outside in the cool air under a blank night sky. The renditions of the songs played neared heartbreaking and beautiful with John’s voice bouncing around as he moved about. At the end of the last song the band received the loudest ovation of the night, giving all in attendance a rare concert to remember.

Photos courtesy of Carlye Wisel

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