Off Beat Music Guide

Concert Review: Bon Iver August 1, 2011

Filed under: Concerting,Music,Now Hear This — bethstephenson84 @ 11:04 pm
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Where: Raleigh Amphitheater and Festival- Raleigh, NC

When: July 29, 2011

After a couple years of not-so-patient waiting, I finally got to see Justin Vernon’s most recognized project, Bon Iver, play a live set last Friday night at The Raleigh Amphitheater and Festival. And while the location was not ideal for this band, the music was just as magical as I had hoped. Let’s make no bones about it, the live performance doesn’t come close to their albums. (Keep in mind this is coming from someone who I think these albums can only be experienced through headphones.) But I realized before I heard them that it would be nearly impossible to translate the intimacy of the albums to the live show.

The Good: My favorite moments of the show were ones I least expected. The band’s cover of Bjork’s “Who Is It” exercised every ounce of this band’s talent and grew my heart by about three sizes—Grinch style. My two other favorite moments involve songs from For Emma, Forever Ago. I must say that it’s not that I didn’t want to hear these songs in particular, but I had really low expectations for the For Emma songs. I didn’t think they could make it interesting or unique live. As usual, I was wrong. The powerful drums and the crowd sing-a-long in “The Wolves (Act I and II) were chill bump worthy. The band turned their haunting song into something much more robust and powerful just in time to break our hearts with that killer line “What might have been lost.” And just when I thought they had outdone themselves, they played “Skinny Love” as the encore. Vernon took center stage with his guitar as his 8 or so bandmates corralled around microphones behind him. While he was telling us to be patient and be kind, the boys behind him provided the percussion with their hands and feet. It felt old, like a song that’s been sung for a hundred years.

The Bad: The venue wasn’t a good fit for this band. Outdoor venues aren’t made for quiet songs and that was proven over and over again that night. I would love to have seen them somewhere like The Tabernacle in Atlanta.

My other disappointment with the show was the pace. It felt like the first few songs were rushed. I think I felt that disappointment deepest because they were songs from the new album and they could have been something really special if they’d have played their hearts out from the first note. It took about 5 songs for the band to really get into it, but when they did, it was excellent.

The Ugly: The heat. It was about 103 degrees in Raleigh that day. This is another reason I am a fan of indoor venues.



Minnesota, WI



Beach Baby

Hinnom, TX


Who Is It (Bjork cover)

Blood Bank





The Wolves (Act I and II)



For Emma

Skinny Love

Here are a few videos from the show. To check out more, head over to my YouTube page at:

Blood Bank


re: Stacks


Best of 2011 (so far) June 22, 2011

Filed under: Best of 11,Music,Now Hear This — bethstephenson84 @ 12:50 pm
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My goodness, 2011 is nearly half over. And what a spectacular year it has already been for music! Several of my favorite veteran musicians have created outstanding albums to add to their already impressive resumes, and like every great year, new bands have emerged and made me fall in love with music all over again.  Here are my ten favorite albums of the year (so far). And these are in no particular order yet.


The Decemberists: The King is Dead – I had high expectations for this release, especially considering my adoration of their previous effort.  The resulting album is a refreshingly different with sweet songs that could provide the soundtrack to a beautiful spring day.



Givers: In Light If Dirty Projectors and Vampire Weekend birthed a band, it would be Givers. Need I say more?



Kurt Vile: Smoke Ring for My Halo– Oh, the voice. The voice and the sadness. You can’t turn it off because it’s too beautiful and too real.



Bon Iver: Bon Iver I’m not sure what he’s talking about 80% of the time, but there’s something in Justin Vernon’s voice when he croons “And at once I knew, I was not magnificent” in the song “Holocene” that moves me. I still find myself gasping when I hear it.



The Head and the Heart: The Head and the Heart– Feels like I’ve known these songs my whole life. Gorgeous songs about a slow, simple life.



Smith Westerns: Dye It Blond– These youngsters have managed to capture summertime perfectly. Makes me wish I was 16 again…minus the acne and the drama.



Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues– It’s nearly impossible to get these songs out of your head. The album is addictive.



 Destroyer: Kaputt– What a lovely homage to 80’s pop, complete with synthesizers and drum machine beats. It doesn’t come off as contrived or ironic either, which is rare for this hipster generation.



King Creoste & Jon Hopkins: Diamond Mine A year is only as good as its best rainy day album. This one is nearly perfect. And don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two yourself.



Elbow: Build A Rocket Boys– Feel good music. The best thing about this album is that you can go as deep or stay as shallow as you want with the music. You will have a good time either way.



Concert Review: Joe Pug with Strand of Oaks April 11, 2011

Filed under: Concerting,Music,Now Hear This,Uncategorized — bethstephenson84 @ 9:18 pm
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Joe Pug- The Evening Muse, Charlotte, NC

Where: The Evening Muse, Charlotte, NC

When: April 9, 2011

Charlotte’s quaintest little music venue, The Evening Muse, was host to Mr. Joe Pug and Strand of Oaks this past rainy Saturday night.  Something about the ambiance and the AMAZING acoustics in The Evening Muse always makes me a little more excited to hear live music, if that’s even possible. The small intimate venue was standing room only for this event and judging by the crowd, it was the only way they could accommodate JP’s fans.

Strand of Oaks- The Evening Muse, Charlotte, NC

The show opened with Strand of Oaks, AKA Tim Showalter and his guitar. This set blew me away. Although it’s a much different genre, Showalter reminded me of when I first saw Justin Townes Earle and how awestruck I was that one man and one guitar could make that much sound.  Where Earle boisterously bangs and knocks on his acoustic guitar while belting out fast paced, twangy songs, Showalter croons with a loud clear voice over the atmospheric strums of his electric guitar. It’s soft and powerful at the same time. Don’t believe me, judge for yourself…

Strand of Oaks- “Sterling”

Then Mr. Pug took the stage accompanied by an electric guitarist and an upright bassist. Pug, who looks like a baby-faced 16 year old, has a deep growly voice that sounds like a perfect mixture of Jack Ingram and Bob Dylan. And his songs are a nice combination of the two as well; equal parts alt-country and folk.

He played around 15 songs in his hour and a half set and performed about 3 of those songs solo. And while I enjoyed every single song in his set I found myself leaving the concert with more a respect than an awe. He is a really talented guy who clearly has a gift for songwriting.  And while he’s not the best singer or guitarist in the world, he demanded respect, which gives him like a million points in my book.

There was a moment during the song “Hymn #101”  when the crowd had become loud and disrespectful, talking over him as he was pouring his heart out and he just stepped away from the mic. He kept singing and playing, but he was making a point: Listen to me; Respect what I am doing. You can hear the girl behind me in the video say “That was awesome,” and it was.

I don’t generally listen to a lot of singer/songwriters. I did when I was in high school and college, but then they all sort of morphed into this John Mayer character who writes songs primarily to make high school girls swoon. The songs stopped being original. So, I knew that Joe Pug was the real deal when I saw that the crowd was about 80% male. His songs resonate with people beyond the “I’m going to write songs about girls to sell lots of albums and fill arenas with 16 year old girls who will put posters of me in their lockers”.  I liked that the crowd wasn’t filled with girls talking about how cute he was, but was instead filled with guys who knew every word of his songs and the words meant something to them. Okay, I will get off my soapbox now…

I really had a good time at this show, and I think Joe Pug is what good music is all about. Check out some videos from the show.

Hymn #101

I Do My Father’s Drugs


Concert Review: Lost in the Trees February 3, 2011

Filed under: Concerting,Music,Now Hear This — bethstephenson84 @ 12:17 pm
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Lost in the Trees- Charlotte, NC 1/22/2011

Where: Snug Harbor, Charlotte, NC

When: January 22, 2011

I like having concert weekends. The more you can cram into Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, the better. After seeing Those Darlins on Friday, I went back to Snug Harbor on Saturday to hear the much lauded Lost in the Trees.

I’ve done a lot of research on this band, and it seems that the only common denominator is lead singer/composer Ari Picker. The rest of the band has been made up of something like 20 of Picker’s friends who weave in and out of the band as they like.

Picker put together his band of misfits while studying film scoring at Berklee College of Music. And it’s easy to see where his flair for the dramatics has crept into the compositions of Lost in the Trees’ debut LP All Alone in an Empty House. The strings are dark and mysterious, menacing even some times, but the folk elements of the music provide an overall comforting effect.

The variation of the band I saw was comprised of two cellists, a violinist, an accordionist/vocalist, a drummer and Picker on lead vocals/guitar. This was a sound the likes of which the punk/rock-in-roll venue, Snug Harbor had never heard.

Picker opened the set with vocalist/accordionist Emma Nadeau in a very stark minimalist style. It was a bit shocking to hear Picker’s first few notes burst out amidst the crowd of Pabst Blue Ribbons and decorations of stars and tinsel. His clear and haunting voice, reminiscent of Damien Rice, made for a theatrical backdrop to the other five band members’ parade onto the stage as a giant white dragon. Yep, it was about as weird as it sounds.

Lost in the Trees- Charlotte, NC 1/22/2011

The stage show may have been a little over the top. The girls, who all wore dark clothing, glittery eye makeup, and feathers in their hair, were force feeding us their caricatures of woodland sprites.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…we get it; you are “lost in the trees”.

But I have no complaints other than the theatrics. I found the band to be one of those rare treasures that sound even better live.  Their harmonies were lovely and the string instruments absolutely breathtaking.  The band certainly warrants the hype surrounding them.

Pardon the darkness of the videos. Snug Harbor is 99% bar/ 1% concert hall, so dark lighting prevails. Also please pardon the drunk guy beside me who sang/talked the entire time.

Walk Around the Lake

Lovely instrumental while Picker fixes a broken guitar string


Concert Review: Those Darlins with Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent February 2, 2011

Filed under: Concerting,Music,Now Hear This,Uncategorized — bethstephenson84 @ 10:57 pm
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Where: Snug Harbor- Charlotte, NC

When: January 21, 2011

I can’t tell you how impressed I have been with the concert lineup in Charlotte this spring. We are certainly not known for our burgeoning music scene, and I often have to travel to either Raleigh or Atlanta to catch the really good shows, but it feels like the tide might be changing for my little big city.

Those Darlins- Snug Harbor 1/21/2011

My first concert of the New Year was Those Darlins who played a sold out show at Charlotte’s token indie bar, Snug Harbor. And as far as booking goes, the band couldn’t have picked a more perfect place to rock-and-roll in the Queen City.

As it sometimes happens, opening acts are better than the headliners. The headliners in this case were a great band, but opening act Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent seemed to stun the hipster crowd with their twangy sound.

If you married the smoky, raspy voice of Loretta Lynn with the soulful voice of anyone in Motown, you would have the powerhouse voice of Cary Ann Hearst. What this little lady lacks in height she makes up for big time in sound and presence. Michael Trent was a pleasant addition, but Ms. Hearst could have sung names out of the phone book, and brought down the house on her own merits.

If Cary Ann Hearst was ice cream Sunday of the night, then Those Darlins were the cherry on top. They were just what you would expect from their album: loud, tatted up, and absolutely gorgeous. With their mix of Rockabiliy and 60’s pop, this all girl band ripped Snug Harbor a new one.

I have mentioned this before about Snug Harbor, but it doesn’t hurt to mention again, the sound quality at the venue is pitiful. It was sort of fun when I saw Japandroids there because it added to their garage band feel. With Those Darlins though, I really thought it was a hindrance to their show. You couldn’t hear the lyrics very clearly and the sound guy had cranked the guitar amps up way too high.  Luckily those ladies were bad ass enough to still make the show fun.

I was stuck at the back of the bar, so I didn’t get any of my own video footage, but here are some videos of both Cary Ann Hearst and Those Darlins. It’s worth the listen.

Cary Ann Heart- Hell’s Bells

Those Darlins- Red Light Love


Concert Review: Mumford & Sons November 10, 2010

Filed under: Concerting,Music,Now Hear This — bethstephenson84 @ 12:54 pm
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Where: Buckhead Theatre-  Atlanta, GA

When: November 7, 2010

It’s no secret that Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More is one of my favorite albums of the year. It’s been in regular rotation on my iPod since its release in February, and I’ve considered it my personal mission to be a one woman marketing machine for this band.

On the surface, the album is chocked full of lovely harmonies, knee slapping banjos and great can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head choruses. But then, after a few listens, you find wonderful complexities within the music and extremely pensive and sometimes dark lyrics that really make for a thoughtful album. It’s already secured a spot in my top 5 albums of the year, easily.

I had been anticipating this concert for about 2 months, but I was sure that even if they just came on stage, played a recording of their album and walked off, I would have a blast. They, of course, did much more than that and a blast was definitely had.

The show opened with the eccentric King Charles followed by the very energetic Cadillac Sky. Both were great choices for opening acts as they incorporated their British roots with King Charles while paying homage to their bluegrass roots with Cadillac Sky.

The concert was held in the newly renovated Buckhead Theatre and I couldn’t image a more perfect sized venue for this type of show. The Theatre holds about 2,100 people during standing room performances, and because this show was sold out and tickets were going for something ridiculous like $250 apiece, the place was most certainly at capacity.

This only made the experience more exciting for me, though. The crowd was so high energy through the entire set, even during performances of the band’s new material (which is right on par with Sign No More’s tracklist) that it created a sort of fan camaraderie where we were instant friends because of our mutual love of the band.

The band played the entire album, sprinkling some new material throughout the set. The sound quality was great and they have such an infectious energy that it was nearly impossible to sit still. The vocals were great and the harmonies mirrored the album perfectly.

They opened with the natural choice, “Sigh No More”, and closed with “Dustbowl Dance” but not before Cadillac Sky joined them onstage for “Awake My Soul”. The encore featured an amazing cover of The Avett Brother’s “Go To Sleep”.

Here’s the setlist:

  1. Sigh No More
  2. Roll Away Your Stone
  3. Winter Winds
  4. White Blank Page
  5. Below My Feet
  6. Timshel
  7. Gave You All
  8. Little Lion Man
  9. Lover of the Light
  10. Thistle & Weeds
  11. Broken Crown
  12. After the Storm
  13. Awake My Soul (with Cadillac Sky
  14. Dust Bowl Dance


  1. Lady of the River (with Cadillac Sky)
  2. Go To Sleep (The Avett Brothers cover) (with Cadillac Sky)
  3. The Cave

In thinking about concerts I’ve attending in the past, I can’t help but draw comparisons to The Avett Brothers and one of my newest favorites, Local Natives. They all three focus on the energy of the show more say than set design or even song selection. It’s almost a little showy, like we know we’re amazing musicians so we are going to show you how athletic we can be simultaneously. They all three do a wonderful job at performing harmonies live. In fact the harmonies in the Mumford & Sons concert might be my favorite thing about the show. It’s just such an art and they’ve clearly worked hard to make it perfect, so bravo for that Mumford & Sons.

Overall, great show and if you get a chance to see them while they’re still playing smaller venues, go, because you won’t be disappointed!

I was able to get quite a bit of video from the show, and if you’d like to see more than what’s listed below, then you can visit my YouTube page at:

Sigh No More


Awake My Soul


Concert Review- Sufjan Stevens

Filed under: Album Review,Concerting,Music,Now Hear This — bethstephenson84 @ 12:18 pm
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Where: The Tabernacle-  Atlanta, GA

When: November 6, 2010

Let me first say, in the very likely case that you only read this first sentence, that this was my favorite concert experience to date. I have been accused in the past of maybe overselling music and artists, but let me assure you, there’s no amount of selling I could do that would even marginally describe this concert.

Being a fan of Mr. Stevens, I blindly enjoyed The Age of Adz because I thought it was interesting and different. And the fact that we got the bonus EP All Delighted People not a month earlier made this a more or less Sufjan Stevens-themed Fall for me.

But it wasn’t until I saw Sufjan’s live show that I truly understood either album. I accepted long ago that there will be aspects of Sufjan Stevens’ music that I would just never get and that was okay because what I did understand was so wonderful.

Before seeing the show, I hadn’t made a very conscious effort to even try and understand The Age of Adz because it’s definitely one of his more difficult albums, which says a lot.  Instead, I opted to enjoy his melodies, which he seems to be a master of.

But hearing his explanations for songs and seeing the AMAZING visual elements he incorporated into the show really provided that (as Oprah would say) A-Ha moment for me.


View from the nosebleed section

He did a lot of dancing and a lot of talking during the almost 2 hour show. He and his back-up singers/dancers did several costume changes in full view of the audience, which provided some really funny moments. And the costumes were in keeping with the Intergalactic theme of the night. Think shoulder pads and glow sticks…

The sound and sound mixing for this show was simply breathtaking. And while it was loud and blanketed the entire building, it never felt abrasive. Sufjan’s mic was set a little louder than all the other instruments so his voice was crystal clear over all of the beats and unusual sounds that characterize most of The Age of Adz.

He opened the show with the very soft “Seven Swan” and closed with the crowd favorite “Chicago,” but everything in between was new material. Even the 24+ minute masterpiece “Impossible Soul” was played, much to my delight.  S.S. used the encore to play old familiars like “Jacksonville” and “Casimir Pulaski Day,” and the crowd wasn’t angry about that.

Here’s the setlist:

  1. Seven Swans
  2. Age of Adz
  3. Too Much
  4. Heirloom
  5. I Walked
  6. Futile Devices
  7. Vesuvius
  8. Now That I’m Older
  9. Get Real Get Right
  10. Enchanting Ghost
  11. Impossible Soul
  12. Chicago


  1. Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
  2. Casimir Pulaski Day
  3. Jacksonville

The feeling I walked away with, a feeling of pure what-the-heck-just-happened, was what makes this my favorite concert to date. The crowd sat in silence most of the show, in what I can only describe as pure awe.

Sufjan Stevens is an incredibly odd man with an incredibly brilliant and weird and funny mind. During those couple of hours, we got a sneak peek into that mind and his world and it was like nothing I’ve ever seen or experienced before.

I was in the nosebleed section because the show was sold out, but I managed to get some video footage. Here are a couple of songs from the show. To see the rest of the video, check out my YouTube page at



Get Real Get Right