At this point, “otherworldly” is probably an overused adjective to describe a singer’s voice, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t nail Jessica Pratt’s uniquely captivating way with a melody. Joined by a single guitarist at The Chapel on Wednesday night, the duo’s intricate folk was simply stunning. The set flew by far too quickly, with “Moon Dude” and “Back, Baby,” both from her new album, On Your Own Love Again, standing out as two of many highlights.
But if the beauty in her voice and her music felt slightly alien, the singer-songwriter was gracious and charming, remarking about how nice it was to share a van with Morby’s band on their tour, and shouting out warm regards to a friend who had shouted out between songs, “I love you, Jessica!” That interjection included, the same audience that was enthusiastic and rambunctious during Morby’s set was crazy respectful during Pratt’s softer fare. The singer noticed, too, thanking the crowd for being so attentive.
I don’t want to suggest that a polite, actively-listening audience is a novel concept, but I’ve been to enough stripped-down shows that have gotten lost in the din of buzzed chatter. Ultimately, it’s a credit to Jessica Pratt’s music and her performance, which kept all eyes on the stage, and The Chapel’s comforting environs. By the end of the show, a couple of the house lights were directed at the hanging disco ball, creating a starry night sky befitting the campfire intimacy of the headliner’s set.
Wednesday night’s co-headliner, Kevin Morby, was received as a big star when he took the stage, and the packed room of fans hung onto every note throughout his consistently excellent set. Opening with “Reign,” from 2013’s Harlem River, he delivered classic sounding folk-rock that alternately, and sometimes simultaneously, called to mind three of the titans: Reed, Cohen, and Dylan.
It helped that the singer’s voice has an aged world-weariness to it. How else to sincerely get away with lines like, “There ain’t no God to save a wretch like me”? Morby’s trio deftly pulled off stripped-down and full-sounding songs with equal skill, and the quiet moments gave the louder ones some extra pay-off. When “Harlem River” turned into a big jamming freak-out, it felt like it mattered.
“Too dreamy.” Caitlin Gutenberger’s assessment of her guitar’s sound — which she quickly corrected — early in Two Sheds’ set was instructive. I’ve been a long-time fan of the band’s ability to keep its songs both atmospheric and grounded (indie-Americana?), and the five-piece’s opening performance suggests that Assembling, out in May, is likely to be the best manifestation of that sound yet. Aided by strong harmonies from her bandmates, Gutenberger sang of topics like low self-esteem and shitty day jobs. Not exactly the lightest fare, sure, but the band sounded invigorated throughout. Here’s hoping it’s a big year for Two Sheds.
Minneapolis’ Carroll were decidedly dreamier, a quartet whose downcast indie-pop was frequently sublime. The band members were clearly talented musicians — great rhythmic moments between the bassist and drummer abounded — but I left feeling like they could do even more by periodically going over-the-top. Things got a little noisier toward the end of their set, a nice and welcome divergence.