Around 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30, Mother Nature’s temperament was mild, and even though looming clouds in the east hinted at something otherwise, that didn’t stop students and Keene residents from filing into the Starving Artist on West Street. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house for “our favorite local Keene band, ‘The Mild Revolution,’” co-founder of the Starving Artist Laina Barakat explained. She made her way to the stage to introduce Friday night’s performers: Nathan Reich, John Remmetter and The Mild Revolution. Barakat works hard to preserve what she, along with co-founder Aaron Weidersphan, has painstakingly created – an outlet for local and national artistic expression – and it’s easy to tell people come because they care: no one talks during performances; no one texts; no one drinks to excess. Barakat only books musicians and artists who she feels fill the aesthetic mold of the Starving Artist, and Nathan Reich holds no immunity to this deliberation.
After sifting through hundreds of bands and musicians, Barakat explained, she stumbled on Reich and has been listening to his mellow folk music ever since. “I’m obsessed,” she admitted.
As Reich, from Brooklyn, N.Y., took the stage with an acoustic guitar clutched in his hands, the rain came. When the streets filled with water, passing cars provided the perfect ambience and diegetic atmosphere as he opened with a song about an ex-girlfriend. “You drink too much, you lost your common sense,” Reich started. Friday was the opening leg of his D.I.Y., self-made solo tour called The Mini-Van tour. A first-timer in Keene, Reich explained the quaint downtown reminded him of his hometown of Walnut Creek, C.A. – about a 40 minute drive east from San Francisco. Reich’s sullen and soft songs created a sedating sonic atmosphere. While quiet, his music was never heard with strained ears, and taking advantage of minute spaces in-between his busy finger-picking remained his strongest asset from the first song to the last.
.[singlepic id=455 w=320 h=240 float=right]
Too often will singer-songwriters recklessly step all over their guitar licks and melodic subtleties by belting lyrics at full volume in attempts of appearing to “really mean it.” Reich doesn’t have to do that. “I like to be alone,” Reich explained outside the Starving Artist in the pouring rain after the show. “I struggle with trying to find a balance with my life.” His music impeccably represents qualms of loneliness, self-doubt, and insecurity with lyrics like “I don’t want to be a martyr,” and “standing on the stage, I’m playing the part okay.” But that’s not to say Reich doesn’t have a sense of humor. Growing up, his friends gave him the nickname “Eeyore” after the morose donkey from “Winnie the Pooh,” a nickname he laughs about to this day. And even during his performance he unveiled a melancholic and relieving sense of humor by singing with closed eyes, “You can go to hell,” spawning a chain-reaction laugh from the audience.
Originally a jazz guitarist at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Reich said people usually find it surprising when they find out his musical roots stem from jazz. His writing gives the sense of a constant search for meaning, and he isn’t too proud to ask for help either.
The next singer-songwriter, John Remmetter, played acoustic, melodramatic songs just the same. It was an interesting contrast between Reich and Remmetter – Reich sang hushed stories of love lost and searching for meaning, while Remmetter belted lyrics from a more hopeful perspective. “You can pick me up but you can’t hold me down,” he sang on the first song.
While Remmetter’s repetitive strum patterns and chord structures slipped away from him at times, he never failed to work out the kinks in time to resolve the chord progression. The lyrics were undoubtedly the meat of his songs, and passionate vocals drove the vehicle of his musical persona. Remmetter played as if there were a band and a rhythm section backing him, leaving awkward gaps in-between strums and an empty and unbalanced vibe on the receiving end of the speakers. He performed wonderfully and his stage presence was captivating as he bounced around the stage with vigor and intensity.
Yet, perhaps a backing band would help round out the sound of his songs and fill in the gaps left by the off-kilter rhythm. By the time The Mild Revolution took stage the thunder, lightning, and flash-flood downpour had picked up outside. Despite the turbulent weather, the door to the Starving Artist remained open and provided an organic background to shape the vocal harmonies and loosely frenzied drumming during their sound check, reminiscent of Akron/Family and The Beach Boys. After their introduction, music performance major at Keene State, Tim Stone, built energy with crashing, wave-like ride cymbals. Stone, who hopes to move to N.Y. after graduating to pursue a professional music career, showed an incredibly well-balanced approach to drumming. He was hand-heavy when necessary and didn’t skimp on the intensity and thud of the kick drum when the crowd needed something to feel inside their chests. Around this whirlwind of drumming, the rest of the Revolution went on harmonizing in Beach Boys fashion while hopping around the stage.
Morgan Little, the band’s guitarist and lead vocalist, smiled and sang, “I just don’t see a problem with making your life mine,” on the first song. Little’s infectious stage presence helped put the crowd into the mood for the performance as it was until guitarist Matt Caputo reached for his saxophone and laid down the best Clarence Clemons he could. That’s when a time bomb of energy exploded and the crowd erupted with excitement and emphatically bobbed their heads.
Audience members in the crowd who were familiar with the lyrics openly belted the lines they knew. “The biggest rush of all was hearing people’s voices in the crowd,” Caputo said.
Feeding off the energy, Stone so furiously beat his drums that occasionally the force would send him leaping off his seat, only to let him land when it was time for a crisp and commanding strike of the snare. Josh Hallengren delivered the perfect counterbalance to the ferocity of the drums as he danced around snare hits with clever bass licks.
And that was only the first song. The second song was a slower jam, one that provided an at-home ambience and one that begged for a lap steel guitar. Interestingly enough, the clever key playing of Dan O’Rourke supplemented the desire for a lap steel as he glided up and down the octaves of his red keyboard while Little, reaching deep, sang, “I’ve been searching so long for that song that’s inside of me.” But it’s hard to pin down their sound, and Little agreed. Instead of wearing his influences – Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, and the Avett Brothers – on his sleeve, Little forms a new style without trying to recreate what’s already been cast in stone. “What I listen to really influences my life but not my song writing,” he explained. The Mild Revolution, named after the time period between George Washington and John Adams, when at a time in America, “most people deemed a Mild Revolution,” Little explained, started in the fall of 2009 when Little and Caputo lived down the hall from each other in Carle Hall. “I heard Matt playing these horrible 90’s songs from down the hallway,” Little joked. And from there, they practiced their sound on the floor of the common kitchen in Carle as their sound progressed. During the last song of their set, everyone in the audience stood up as the crowd sang, “I feel like I never left those county lines.”
In-between the hi-hat dominant shake-and-shuffle, Keene State student Joey Mintel leaned over and confessed, “Man, I would love for my band to play with these guys.” And Mintel wasn’t the only audience member to excitedly share his reverence for The Mild Revolution. “They should change their name to The Extreme Revolution,” 34-year-old Keene resident Frank Luksevish said with a smile. “The Mild Revolution is a great name to trick you into checking them out, but in fact they’re gonna blow your mind.” What it boils down to, Luksevish explained, is that The Mild Revolution is a band that can be lyrically related to and be on the same level as the audience.
“That’s what they do,” he said. Little agreed, and stated that being able to relate to the people he performs in front of is what it’s all about. Aside from staying busy preparing to record an EP with N.H. producer Ben Rogers and being full-time students, the guys in the band find time to run a music blog where they take suggestions for cover songs. So far, according to Little, they have covered songs by artists as wide-ranging as Vampire Weekend, Beyoncé, and Lykke Li.
“We even covered the song “Whip My Hair,’” he laughed. This proves that aside from simply folk or rock musicians, the members of The Mild Revolution are truly all-around musicians of individualistic calibers. And booking musicians like that is one of the greatest strengths of The Starving Artist. “The Starving Artist is the place to be,” Little said. “And if you like your community, come out and support it.”
Aaron Mitta can be contacted at email@example.com