Tommy Alexander at The Crepe Place, by Joshua Huver
Tommy Alexander (photo: Joshua Huver)

“Never miss a Sunday show” is something you might have heard if you often see live performances. That was true of this past Sunday, August 26, 2018 at the Crepe Place in Santa Cruz, where Portland-based songwriters Tommy Alexander and Taylor Kingman were performing.

Santa Cruz’s own singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lauren June provided a solo and striking opening set. She performed mostly on her keyboard, but switched to an acoustic guitar for her final few songs. Her music was emotive. Slow and introspective commentaries on lives, people and habits, left behind and simultaneously in the unescapable present.

She briefly paused between songs, a quick breath or sip of water, before plugging along into the next one. As she moved through the set, the bar grew quieter and quieter with all attention drawing toward the music.

Lauren June’s stripped-down, half-hour set was the perfect precursor for Taylor Kingman. Kingman started his set off as I’d seen him before, totally solo. One man, one guitar, and a whole hell of a lot of things to say. With a high pitched warble and intricate melodies, Kingman’s tales are gripping.

After Kingman had all but completely silenced the room with his opening tunes “Dejavudu,” “My Lover’s Bed,” and a new, yet-to-be-named song, he welcomed Tommy’s backing band to the stage. After a year of working closely with Tommy and his band, the once skeletal tracks begin to take on a new life and a new intensity.

The set was split equally between Taylor performing solo and with a backing band. Song that got the full treatment included “Emmanuel,” “Wannabe,” “Something (About Heaven),” and “Holy Honey.” Don’t be fooled by the overtly religious titles, though. Most of the lyrics deal with the struggle of substance and emotional intake as much as they deal with the inevitable fallout.

The changeover between Taylor and Tommy took less than 10 minutes. Literally the only difference on stage was that Taylor picked up an electric guitar and hung out in the back, adding his technical mystery to the mix. Tommy took position front and center.

Tommy began his career with a very folk-based, solo-player gig as well. But somewhere along the line in the last year or two, he intersected with guitarist Adam Witkowski andbassist Ian Wade of Left Coast Country. With the band’s latest addition of drummer Buddy Weeks,they have been working hard ever since.

Just as the band of Witkowski, Wade, and Weeks elevated Kingman’s songs to new heights, so have the development of Tommy’s songs taken shape. It wouldn’t be fair to call them a backing band. For the cleanest rendition of what these guys are capable of, check out Tommy’s latest single, released earlier this month.

Tommy’s set was short, only about seven songs. But in between the heartbreak, the longing and the retrospection, there were funny stories and smiles abound.

Old favorites “Shot Down” and “Time and Time Again” were punctuated around “Rejection” and “Light.” The sharp observations and prose from Tommy have consistently been elevated by Witkowski’s expressive lead runs. Add to that the incredibly nuanced and equally technical approach to the music from Kingman in the back, and these songs continue to take on a life of their own.