Anderson East and Holly Williams hit the Belcourt. And not on film.
Anderson East was the opener for Holly Williams on Tuesday night, and I wanted to personally thank her after the show for letting him open. This kid has some pipes. He immediately grabbed me when I sat down to watch him perform. The stage was completely stripped down, no flashing lights, no band backing him, just a bass player and Anderson’s harmonica around his neck. That’s when you can really tell how talented someone really is, if they have almost nothing to aid them in their performance. And Anderson needed no help at all. He was so completely raw and vulnerable that you could almost hear the pain in his voice on his opener “Lonely.” When he sang “I wouldn’t be lonely/if I’d just crawl on back/I wouldn’t be lonely/if I’d just fix the flaws I have,” I thought, genius. Why can’t I think of lines like that? It’s such a simple concept, if you don’t want to be lonely go back to the person you left. Fix yourself before you get involved with someone. Right? Anyway, his voice completely stole the show. Think along the lines of Ray Lamontagne and at some points a little James Blunt came through.
Before Anderson introduced ‘Fire Song’ he said he doesn’t usually say what his songs are about, but he would make an exception this time. He stated that this one was about a situation that somebody he knew was trying to get out of. He then quipped to the audience that he hoped we didn’t feel like we were in a situation we wanted to get out of (i.e. coming to his show and no…I could listen forever). The desperation in the song is so strong it’s frighteningly good. He almost had a little Sting come out of him on the song as well. His song ‘Cotton Field Heart’ is about the struggle between the country boy in him (he hails from Athens, Alabama) and the city boy, as he has lived in Nashville for several years now. The line that really brought it home for me was “The bright lights down on Broadway/I worry I’ve seen too much,” Haven’t we all Anderson, haven’t we all. I moved from the city to the “country” and I totally understand the inner struggle there. I can relate. Anderson closed the show with the title track on his record called “Flowers of a Broken Hearted.” It’s a bluesy little tune that definitely left me wanting more of the blues. If you get a chance, you should see him live, cause oh my lord, that voice…
A friend of a friend recently told me that Holly Williams writes really good “crying in coffee shop songs.” I have never heard a truer statement. I was only a bit familiar with Williams before walking in the doors of the prestigious Belcourt Theater (for the first time) last night. And now all I can say is that I haven’t taken the record off repeat since I left.
She opened the show with her song “Drinkin” and I never wanted it to end. The song’s melody is so inviting and the lyrics are both brilliant and heartbreaking at the same time. When the song first started, I was wondering where it was going to go. I think that’s the best part of hearing a song for the first time. There’s so much creativity and imagination that goes along with it. And Holly puts plenty of both in her songs. The line, “Why you cheating on a woman like this/I raise your babies/then I kiss your lips/so why you cheatin’ on a woman like this” made me want to stand up and say yeah WHY ARE YOU cheating? How could you do that do something like that to someone that is raising your kids? Then I realized I was in a public place and needed to calm down. I guess it’s kind of an anthem of sorts. I didn’t think the songs could get any better and then she played her song “Railroad.” I come from a long line of train enthusiasts, so naturally this tune was a standout for me. Made my night complete. The bass on this song charges right through you, so much that you can’t help but move to it. It was also the sweetest looking upright bass I have ever seen. Tall and thin, it looked like it was simply floating in the air. Going back to the crying in coffee shop songs, next on the set list was “Gone Away from Me” (Jackson Browne is featured album’s track). I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house after this one was finished. Holly introduced the song by saying that it was about a cemetery where five generations of her family are buried in Louisiana. Kleenex required when listening.
I would have to say my absolute favorites of the night were ‘Without You’ and “Waiting on June.” I just happened to wait on a couple at work a week ago that told me they had been to the Opry that night and said their favorite performance was Holly Williams. They said she played this song called “Waiting on June” that brought the house down and told me I HAD to hear it ASAP. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to hear it live a week later. The song is about Holly’s grandparents and the sweet story of their marriage from her grandfather’s perspective. Gwyneth Paltrow lends her pipes to some background vocals on the record as well. Holly took a seat at the piano after switching off between a couple different guitars and introduced “Without You.” She said she wrote it about settling down and marrying her husband Chris Coleman (also her lead guitarist and assisted on vocals). The lyrics “I got here on crowded trains/with old guitars/and a famous name/running like a kid” flow so gracefully and then she held out the word kid to where it was almost piercing and just perfect. Jakob Dylan assists on the record with some nice vocal harmonies.
Holly chose the close the show by covering John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery’” and a song from her grandfather, Hank Sr. “I Saw the Light,” which absolutely brought the house down. The audience was clapping along and it was more like a musician was playing for a bunch of her friends/family than just some show patrons. Earlier in the night Holly brought her mom on stage to sing harmony on her song “Mama.” Like I said earlier, Holly’s husband plays guitar in her band and she covered her grandfather’s song to end the night. The atmosphere that Holly created felt like a family get-together in her living room, rather than a theater. It seems like she wants everyone to be a part of her family and last night I really felt like I was. Who doesn’t like that? The musicians in this town all seem like one big family circuit and I think that is why so many people love it here. And I’m happy to be one of those people!