Sometimes, on a cold winter night, I want the comfort of my own bed, with its pile of familiar warm blankets and a me-shaped depression in the center. Other times, equally as freezing and dark, I want to be surprised, have something shock me out of my routine and make me dance or run or laugh so hard my body warms itself. Comfort and surprise: last Friday at Caffe Lena, I got a little of both.
I came to see the lead members of alternative rock band Winterpills, Flora Reed and Philip Price, play as a mostly acoustic duo. The couple and their bandmates have released five albums since 2005, most recently 2014’s Echolalia, in which they applied their dreamy guitar sound and high-pitched harmonies to some of their favorite cover tunes. Their version of Sharon Van Etten’s “One Day” was released as a single last year and has seen a lot of radio play.
Their performance was plenty comforting. Their sweetly blended voices played over a pair of acoustic electric guitars on “We’ll Bring You Down” and “Amazing Sky.” While playing acoustic, the pair can rely heavily on Reed’s vocal power. She carries any song on which she sings lead and enriches the others with her harmonizing. Watching her sing with serenely closed eyes, I could feel the emotion she funnels into her music vibrating through the room. She matches and plays around Price’s falsetto so skillfully she could make “Coming Round the Mountain” sound moving.
I find Price hit-or-miss as a lyricist, but his ability to arrange and compose beautiful tunes was more than apparent. He plugged in and displayed the subtle, atmospheric guitar work that characterizes Winterpills’ records on a rendition of Lisa Germano’s “It’s the Buzz,” and “Take Away the Words.” They finished up on a high note with this beautiful and understated version of his song “Feather Blue”:
A few patrons shuttled out the door following Reed and Price’s set, but those that stayed were treated to the best kind of surprise. Songwriter and one-man band Matt Lorenz, who calls himself The Suitcase Junket, hauled a seemingly random mixture of junk and found objects on stage, along with his Dali-esque mustache and black and white checkered tie, and blew us away with one of the most uniquely skillful performances I have ever seen.
Surrounded by his menagerie of re-purposed rubbish, Lorenz lifted his reconstructed guitar (he later explained that he had found the body in a dumpster and tinkered with it to create the sound he wanted) up in front of his face and his microphone and sang into its sound hole, creating an otherworldly tone that led dramatically into his song “New Old Friend.” The song erupted from all four of his limbs, his rhythm section included a box of bones and silverware as a kind of rattle, a circular saw blade as a cymbal, and a saucepan as a bell.
What I found truly remarkable about The Suitcase Junket was that, to my ears, all the unusual instrumentation amounted to more than novelty act shtick. If I blocked out the scene on stage, this was still really good music. Lorenz’s vocal style is raw and emotive, and seems to call on the tradition of rasping delta blues singers that rock music grew out of. His lyrics and songwriting are ambitious, catchy, and a little unusual, full of surprising but effective word choices and clever turns of phrase. The overall sound was more than just a collection of cool noises, it was a cohesive, full orchestration that allowed him to create songs that were filled with imaginative and emotional force.
Tunes like “Radio Flyer,” and “Hot Rod God” were dirty, heavy stomps that showed the influence of the classic bluesmen, performed with energy and vocal style that reminded me of Richie Havens. While songs like “Backyard Fence” and “Dauphine and Desire” told fascinating stories from fresh angles. Two of my favorites were the mysterious “Everybody Else,” and the jubilant sing-along “Wherever I Wake Up,” for which Lorenz requested and received plenty of audience participation:
Lorenz’s confidence in his own abilities, and his foundation in the best tradition of innovative songwriting and character vocals, came through in his choice of two covers to end his set: Dylan’s “Tears of Rage” and Tom Waits’ “Blind Love,” for which he stepped out from behind his props and let his one-of-a-kind vocal abilities take center stage.
Here he is doing “Blind Love” in Boston last year:
Winterpills are currently touring in the Northeast, showing off some new material and promising a new album later this year. The Suitcase Junket is performing along the East Coast in support of his album Make Time, and involved in all sorts of interesting creative endeavors, visit him at makingwhatiwant.com.