Songwriting Sorcery And Pure Magic: Aoife O’ Donovan At The Sinclair (Cambridge, MA)
“In the magic hour, when the moon is low and the sky’s the kind of blue that you think you know”…
As the lady and I ascended the stairs to The Sinclair I have an overwhelming sense of anxious tension wash over me. I had been waiting for this homecoming show of Aoife’s for quite some time. Where “In The Magic Hour” slightly departs from the songwriter’s more bluegrass folksy roots, the collection of songs commands ab it more presence and a heartier sound, sonically speaking. The textures are a bit more heavy and the strokes the music takes on the canvas of the record is somewhat more electrified and severe, but in the element that is is a bit more robust and less acoustic driven kind of a way. I was curious to see how O’ Donovan and her band would take those sounds and recreate them in a live setting. To say they didn’t disappoint in an incredibly large understatement.
The opening act of this show in the duo of Cassandra Jenkins and Sam Evian was a good pairing for Aoife and her band and opened the show up nicely. Despite a few nervous hiccups on a song or two, I enjoyed their set. The duel guitars swam in a sea of tremolo and reverb and Jenkins’s beautifully warm vocal dovetailed nicely into the headliners set as they share a lot of the same qualities in their voices and tone.
Aoife and her band (guitarist Anthony da Costa and drummer Steve Nistor) took the stage to a roar of applause from the packed house at The Sinclair. As a homecoming show of sorts, she made a comment about the band giving her grief for knowing approximately 70% of the crowd personally. Well, the love in the room from that 70% and beyond was evident by the time the first note rang out in the set.
As the trio pressed their way through a collection of songs from both ‘Magic Hour’ and ‘Fossils’, favorites such as the bright and inner looking title track of the most recent album, the locomotive driving energy of “Hornets”, and the haunting, plodding ‘Stanley Park’ you could hear a pin drop (well, aside from the boorish group of 50-something ladies next to me…immediately in front of the stage). But I, nor anyone in the audience, allowed that to detract from their experience.
By the time O’ Donovan excused Anthony and Steve from their duties the power and feeling in the room was all encompassing, comforting and at ease, but on fire all the while. She then launched into an absolutely breathtaking version of Joni Mitchell’s “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” that sent shockwaves through the room and chills down anyone-present-with-a-beating-heart’s spine. I have seen many shows at The Sinclair and I am yet to witness an artist be able to captivate an audience in that way and hush an audience of hundreds to a complete pin-drop silence. Beauty incarnate.
The trio managed to take the songs I had heard on Fossils, Magic Hour and witnessed live previously and elevate them to soaring pinnacles. Not necessarily to a better or totally heightened state in the sense of improving, but something completely different and interesting and beautiful. Da Costa’s guitar playing over the songs ranged across the map. From light coloring over the acoustic guitar rhythm to straight out metal guitar riffing…it was a truly entertaining, magnificent thing to behold. I love to see when a musician is fully engulfed in the music, and his enthusiasm was off of the charts. Top it off with some subtle, but extremely effective and gorgeous harmonies and well, swoon folks. Drummer Steve Nistor added a whole different element in his drumming. He added funk and a groove to songs that I have come to love and allowed me to experience those songs in a different fashion last evening courtesy of the band.
I’ve been a fan of O’ Donovans since her early days with Crooked Still and on the way home last evening my wife asked me what it was about her that made me fall so head over heels for her music and her songs…and I am left speechless. I am not quite certain I can properly or effectively put words to why these songs affect me so much, they just do. And perhaps, that inability to express and illustrate a feeling or emotion is fitting and truly enlightening in its own way about the music this songwriter crafts. Music that instills feelings without being cognitive of the reason or being able to summarize those emotions in mere adjectives and descriptors. That, my friends, is the real magic…