Review: Sondre Lerche @ City Winery

My introduction to Sondre Lerche was unexpected, sort of a reverse hierarchy of a typical new music discovery. I went to Maxwells, the greatest music venue in our solar system, to see Dan Wilson who was opening the show. I figured, why not stick arounnd for the headliner. The set Sondre performed was the most aggressive guy-with-a-guitar performance I had seen up until that point. Full on solo electric guitar, bouncing and gyrating all over the place, as if he were backed by a The Clash, yet filled with delicate melodies. This, I was down with.

Several years and shows later, he has rarely disappointed. I don’t know why more artists dont take this approach – solo electric guitar. You see a guy on stage with an acoustic, and you pretty much imagine what you’re going to get, with rare exceptions. But seeing a guy plugged in with no band, it really keeps you guessing. I’ve seen Ted Leo do this, and he does in fact deliver, but no one else comes to mind. One consistent thing Sondre has going for him is his use of weird Brazilian/Jazz chords all over the place. You rarely hear some simple standard voiced open chord, he’s throwing in major 7ths, augmented 9ths, triumphant 14ths, and so forth. I heard somewhere that he started out listening to Jobim, and that would explain everything. I’ve often wished there were an album of jobim standards played on solo jazz guitar by some master, if Wes Montgomery were still alive, maybe Jim Hall back in the day, hell, I would trust Marc Ribot to do it. That album would win an Oscar. I dont care if there’s no visual accompaniment, it would work. But we’ve gotten off track.

notice the wine barrells as the backdrop
notice the wine barrells as the backdrop

Last week, the show was at City Winery, a relatively new venue downtown, with all good intentions. The space is very cool, good stage and sound, and they actually make wine, so there’s all sorts of barrells and whatnot lying about. Their one downfall is that they seem to want to run it like a restaurant, while everyone is in attendance to see a show. They reserve your seats at big long tables, where its easy to get confused or miscalculate. I was at their first sold out show last year – Medeski Martin & Wood, and it was a straight up clusterfuck. No one knew what was going on, and it took foreverrrrr to get seated. On this particualr evening, there was a seating mishap, which they rectified by giving us some delicious wine, so pretty much, im ok with it. City Winery, we’re still friends.

Sondre appeared on stage in his usual fashion, I would say like a lightning bolt, but he’s a tiny dude, so let’s say more like a static shock that really catches you by surprise. He wasted no time, and came out swinging. He played some new hits, opening with Good Luck off the album of the same title, and Heartbeat Radio, one of his finer recent songs. Before the release of the Good Luck album, he had an EP, called the Polaroid Pumpkin Party EP, only sold at shows, which included a few songs off the Good Luck album, done solo acoustic. I preferred these to the produced versions, so its always nice to hear them performed live in this fashion.

Some rousing versions of Sleep On Needles and Dead Passengers, spiced up with some delay and distortion had everyone feeling good. He pulled out a Big Star cover in tribute to Alex Chilton, and even Im A Boy by The Who. My favorite cover of all time, though, was absent. On the Dan In Real Life soundtrack, he does a kick ass jazz version of Elvis Costello’s Human Hands, which I believe even surpasses the original. Want as I may, I will never…ever…be the dude who calls out a request. Its just not my thing, and this point was only hammered in by the table behind us. A group of maybe 10, well dressed peolpe on appearance, but as soon as the wine began to flow, they became “Bro Dudes” immediately, and there was no turning back. The line was so crossed by one request. During a quiet moment, Broseph yelled out “Yo! Play Tragic Mirror Bro!” Yeah. He called the Norwegian on stage bro. And did it while requesting a song called “Tragic Mirror”. I don’t even know where to go with this. Its not like he was gonna play “Ants Marching” Lets imagine this is some other contexts. “Don’t Think Twice, Its Alright Bro!” “My Heart Will Go On, Bro!” “Candle In The Wind, Bro!” “Times They Are A Changin, Bro!” I think this would apply to every Dylan song though. Lets not get too deep, or I might burst into tears.

Sondre 2

My one request, non show oriented For Son Lerch (like Ton Loc) is for the next record. OK bro, here’s what we gotta do. Go into the studio, bring the big ass Gretsch Hollowbody, get a really great sounding amp, at some big studio with a really old school reverb chamber and maybe a tape delay. Hell, go to Abbey Road. Plug in, roll tape, and play 13 songs, no overdubs, no band, just go for it. Have you ever heard Elvis’ recording of Blue Moon? It will be like that. Throw any Jobim tune on there, and that shit might even win an oscar. Listen to me Sondre, I have your best interest in mind here.

Also, just for the hell of it, here is the smallest recording setup in history.  Cigarette amp, trash found delay pedal, Sennheiser e609, tuner.

Cigarette Amp