There is a table heavy with lit candles and houseplants at one of the longest room in a nice white house in a bad part of town. Musicians play in front of it, warm voices, golden instruments, while the rest of us are arranged on the floor and on chairs, a cozy audience of friends and friends of friends, even as autumn is whipping the last of summer away with rain while we’re nestled safe within. The duo up front, a slim violinist with long chestnut hair and a man in a hoodie on an acoustic guitar, fill the space with their music, keeping us safe with lyrics about cigarettes and love. They call themselves Two Stoned Birds and can’t remember the lyrics to the Bob Dylan cover they offered to play. They fumble and sip from a brown paper bag and it all fits right in.
Jess Hill played earlier, as memorable and flawless as the after image of a lightning strike. I love her, as always, as ever. She gets a little better every time she performs and I’ve been watching her for years now, sitting on floors, following her invitations to coffee-shops and backyards. If she asks, I will come. Anywhere. I am so proud of her, I can feel it in my blood. It is her house we’re all crammed in and she made the chai that’s simmering on the stove and filling our cups. She put together this night. Possibly she made the borscht, too, but I don’t know is that’s true.
James Lamb is next, a young man denim jacket and a steel embedded electric guitar. He’s the first to use the amp. Two other men play with him, the man with the hoodie on bass and a drummer cleverly brushing an ersatz kit on the floor, (a cookie tin, a bass drum put on its back), but James is the show. He steals and keeps our attention. He tells fun stories between his songs that have nothing to do with the music, but help glue the moods of them together. It is obvious that his set is what Jess has been waiting for all night and as soon as he sings it’s obvious why. He’s incredibly talented. The songs are powerful, lovely creatures that make me think of worn out vintage trains. They seem to travel from one coast to another as the singers harmonize, melodies eroded by salt spray, lyrics sharp with the taste of oil yet as warm and comfortable as freshly combed wool. The urge to sing along unrolls naturally out of the notes, even when what’s coming out of the guitar is almost too complex to follow.
Meanwhile, we’re taking photos with our phones and putting them up on Instagram and pushing the buttons that populate them everywhere else. We’re humming along and tagging photos of the performers and audience as we go. We’re sipping tea and nodding our heads to the beat and clapping between songs, happy to be here, glad to be part of it. The concert wraps up with a song about living in a small town called “Everybody is an Expert” and our voices are huge as they join the chorus. Our voices are larger than even the rain. And everything, absolutely everything about this concert, is just right.