The stage is set and the lights go down in a small bar out in Western, MA on a Monday evening. You hear about this all time. Secret shows popping up and somehow everyone seems to hear about it. Then it's not really a secret is it? Well it's not promoted in the traditional sense of Facebook invites and fliers around town. But word travels fast especially when it's a great band like The Low Anthem and all the buzz going on with their new record coming out. We've blogged about them in the past telling the story of delivering beer to their pasta factory converted into a studio. Yes it was dead of Winter and the only way in was an icy fire escape. The music we heard was well worth risking our life so Gansett could fuel their creative efforts. This Monday was just as magical. Tucked away in the Mission Bar & Tapas in Pittsfield, MA, The Low Anthem played an amazing set with some new music that will be on Smart Flesh (due out 2/22/11) and favorites off OMG! Charlie Darwin! The bar was packed and once again the Gansetts were flowing like the Charles River. Mostly thanks to the success of the Word X Word festival in the Summer. Mission Bar does a great job of holding these "secret shows" and it's great to experience it. They are embarking on a string of Winter shows including some dates with Emmylou Harris and Iron & Wine.
Submitted by Amanda Rae Busch
As my friend Alicia so deftly pointed out last night, while we stood in a dimly lit inner shell of an old brick mill building somewhere in Pittsfield, it all might have been one big fat marketing ploy. After all, she quipped skeptically, "People like ’secret’ stuff."
But, after chatting with event organizers after an emotional, lovely set by the Rhode Island-based indie-folk quartet The Low Anthem, we learned that there was a pretty good reason for secrecy: the space in which we stood was totally illegal. Off-limits! Strictly prohibited! Absolutely forbidden!
"Yeah...we’re not really supposed to be here," was the refrain echoing in the spacious yet charmingly intimate downtown venue. No matter, though, because we were there, toasting our Narragansett tallboys in the name of delightfully unscrupulous yet completely harmless collective behavior.
So, the music! When a lead singer prefaces his band’s first song by announcing softly, "This is a song about lying in the grass, waiting to fall in love," you understand immediately that the lyrics just might melt your heart. And when one dude breaks out a hand saw and starts stroking it with a violin bow (really), you realize that’s just an amuse-bouche of the musical treats to come.
Throw in a hammer dulcimer, harmonica, clarinet, drums, trumpet, French horn, double bass, acoustic and electric guitars, an old-fashioned pump organ, other miscellaneous music makers, and add smart words to the tune on moody, bluesy, earnest crooning and...you do the math.
We heard some new tracks off the group’s forthcoming album, Smart Flesh, which is mixed by producer Mike Mogis (of Monsters of Folk/Bright Eyes brilliance) and set for release on February 22, 2011. (I got chills during a preview of the bluesy, poetic "Apothecary.")
The merch table was quite impressive, too, boasting the group’s debut album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin on vinyl and 45 (!) and quirky graphic screen-printed T-shirts. Fun hipster color combos, too. Love that.
If you missed it, don’t worry: The Low Anthem will be back, eventually. The band has formed a special kinship with our city, thanks to Word X Word Festival founder and musical matchmaker Jim Benson. From first listen of their tunes online, he dug 'em.
"I ordered their limited-edition first CD," Benson explains. "They sent [it] to me and written on it was simply 'Jamestown, King George?' It cracked me up. I sent an email to their 'booking agent'...turns out it was Jeff from the band operating under a pseudonymn. He and i got into a long conversation the day Obama was inaugurated; I thought i was talking to the agent. It wasn't 'til they showed up at Mission that I realized I'd been duped."
He invited them to perform at his Mission Bar + Tapas in March 2009, then to Word X Word at Barrington Stage Company Stage II in August 2009 (Remember that?) and again in 2010. Amid all of that, rumple-haired sprite songstress of the group, Jocie Adams, held a solo gig in the Mission window and the entire group performed at the Green River Festival in Greenfield, Mass.
"We've introduced them to a lot of people who love their music," Benson explains. "They feel at home here, feel like they can try new stuff, and I think they like the combination of familiarity and anonymity they get, just a few hours from home."
Until they return, another cool, clandestine evening with a thoughtful soundtrack awaits: The next Secret Show features Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion on December 3. Get details’and your name on the list: firstname.lastname@example.org. Then, keep quiet.