Words by: Emily Logan
Photos by: Adrian Bischoff

I've yet to see a bad show at the Great American Music Hall. And last night was no exception. The show that sold out so early in the game was well worth any extra effort to push your way into the crowd or burrow for a ticket on Craigslist. The audience was a bit different than some other Noise Pop events – perhaps slightly older, with more glasses of white wine floating around than plastic cups of beer.

First up was Tiny Television. This intimate performance featured just guitar, vocals and slide guitar, and was perfect in its arrangement. The strained vocals with a faux southern accent was the antithesis of the delicate, immaculate slide guitar playing, which really made the performance an experience. The references to San Francisco brought a familiarity to a genre of music that one doesn’t think of as characteristically from here (even if the references were to 16th street and crack cocain). This lovely performance made the band’s twangy MySpace songs into light, personal tunes and it was just delightful.

Dave Smallen of Oakland was on next. After thinking that it was incredibly balsy to come out 1) all alone with wild, excited eyes and a huge smile, and 2) to start with a Leonard Cohen cover, I was impressed throughout his entire set. Had I resigned to truly caring about my ears last night, I would have been popping my earplugs in and out every few minutes, as Smallen’s use of dynamics is extreme and breathtaking. His simply, tinny guitar rides smoothly underneath his passionate singing. His raw, city-centric lyrics complimented his changes in mood. And the performance reminded me of some of my favorite old Bossa nova recordings, where the performers would laugh mid-song because they were having so much fun. I hope to hear much more from this guy.

As Laura Gibson took the stage (the epitome of “cute” in her Dutch pigtails and little printed dress), the dynamic of the crowd changed. And while it felt like many had been anticipating this set, it was still unfortunately very hard to hear her soft, delicate songs over the din of chatter. But she took it well, and played an incredible set that caused everyone around me to say they were getting her record at the end of the night. But men accompanying her had myriad instruments at his side - melodica, banjo, castanets, accordion, saw – and each was playing his respective half of the drum set. The sounds that were created mixed with Gibson’s angelic voice and soft lyrics was just beautiful. Her set was the highlight of the show for me.

And finally it was time for Josh Ritter. Now, the chatter of the crowd ceased and was replaced with yells, hoos and haws, and “I love you”s from the enamored women of the crowd. I almost felt like Davy Jones had just come on stage with all the screaming and reciprocal ear-to-ear smiles from Ritter. He was all decked out in a snazzy black suit, and his string quartet for the night was equally outfitted. He started the set alone, to a tune the audience already recognized. And as the string quartet came in, the energy grew. The strings would ebb and flow with the music, coming to the forefront of the sound and then backing off to hover beneath Ritter’s guitar. And while the stark faces of the string players initially reminded me of how classical violin training took the joy out of music for me, they thankfully seemed like they were having fun by the end.

The audience went crazy for the more upbeat songs – the floor shook as people hopped up and down, singing the lyrics at the top of their lungs. For everyone involved, even those who weren’t die-hard fans, it was a rare event to see such a performer with string quartet accompaniment. I really hope he does it again.

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