LIVE REVIEW: Marissa Nadler at The EARL

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A couple of week’s ago we published an interview with The Gotobeds (Sub Pop’s latest up and coming rock ‘n’ roll stars) frontman Eli Kasan where he talks about the need for live shows to be real, with mistakes, and different from the recordings. I caught a couple of live shows myself that week where Eli’s words couldn’t have rang truer, each show taking on their own meanings out of Eli’s truths. Marissa Nadler‘s show at The EARL on that Tuesday was a lesson on what makes going out and seeing an artist live so compelling. Eli Kasan’s quote:

“I think as a fan I would want a rowdy experience out of a rock band, I don’t want to go see them play the record perfectly. You want to see some energy or even errors, especially when they’re honest. It’s not like we’re up there saying “We don’t give a shit, we’re doing whatever we want”, we’re usually trying.”

Ok, so Marissa Nadler isn’t exactly a rock band. While the singer songwriter’s dark themes and haunting, ethereal vocals atop her song’s ambient nature has become a soft spot for black metal lovers, the singer from Massachusetts has toured pretty much solo for a decade with her acoustic guitar. It’s the second part of Eli’s quote that makes it so relevant to Marissa’s show at The EARL in East AtlantaIn the past, it wasn’t exactly hidden that Marissa had to fight through her own bouts of stage fright to become the performer she grew into. As it usually does, alcohol became a factor as she tried to fight through her own fears. But the veteran has been at it for twelve years, including seven albums, and she’d worked through those trying times. At least she says she has….

Marissa Nadler at The EARL

Marissa Nadler at The EARL

While we are at it, let’s take back that thought that she isn’t a rock band either. Touring behind her expansive new album, Strangers (May 2016 via Sacred Bones), Nadler surrounded herself with an extremely talented band including members of one of the stellar openers, Muscle & Marrow. And to top it off, Marissa not only had an electric guitar strapped around her, but she was playing lead, revealing a few songs into the set that this was one of the first times she’s ever played lead. She claimed she was having an absolute blast too, but was she really?

The small but intimate crowd full of big Marissa Nadler fans at The EARL that night helped make this such an interesting evening. The crowd wasn’t there talking over each other, they were there to see a talented artist that they loved as they were surrounded by her deep, soaring vocals. The attentive crowd made it so much easier to catch the interesting dynamics that were happening on stage. And there was a lot to catch.

img_6641.jpgGoing from solo to having a band is one thing in itself, playing lead on the electric for one of the first times in your life, while trying to recreate your songs live with a newly formed band? That’s another. Mistakes are bound to happen, but it’s how the unit handles the mistakes that make it compelling. I can’t say for sure that this was a group of trusted musicians put together by Marissa herself, or a pieced together group plucked specifically for their talents on this tour. It seemed more like the latter, at least that’s the vibe I got while watching the stage. You could actually see the group growing tighter together just through out the set. Bonds were being formed, big brother roles were being taken on, even in moments of causal WTF looks happening, you could always tell there was certain respect for Marissa. These were band members getting used to each other’s quirks. And there were plenty.

Throughout the set, at least 3 times Marissa and the band started the song, only for Marissa to stop before getting too far in; sometimes they were just off, other times as she switched between electric guitars, she found she was out of tune with the song. At least once, she got frustrated and told the band to move onto the next song, they would have to come back to that song. Besides the obvious mistakes like those, between songs it would get slightly weird with her nervous stage banter that had the band and others give those quick “WTF” looks. At one point she reached down to grab a water and spilled it all over some of her equipment. It was weird to watch Marissa fumble around on stage, was she drunk? Was she just nervous because of playing lead guitar (the lights were noticeably turned very low, a sure sign the sound guy is trying to help nerves)? Perhaps it’s just that Marissa is a little flighty? Nah, that’s a not a word for a person who can write such deep songs.

img_6639.jpgWhat Marissa Nadler was that night, was humanized. Not only was that not a bad thing, but I know I walked away from that set a bigger fan than I was previously. For one thing, despite the dark nature of her music, it was clear that’s only one side of her. There was an obvious fun, quirky side, that despite nerves, she was able to use to brush off the mistakes; she’s the type of person you want to support and could bring life to any conversation.

These are the compelling things you catch live that you’ll never hear or catch on record. There was a band growing together on stage with a bunch of talented musicians. There were relationships being built right before our very eyes. Mistakes are real, and while on the surface this could be misconstrued as a hot mess on stage, the thing that made this show so very great was what happened as soon Marissa Nadler started to sing songs such as highlights like “Janie in Love” and “Hungry Is the Ghost”, there were no mistakes in her vocals, she would jump right in and hit every little emotional point that is embedded into her songs. There was no lag or nerves, once she jumped in, she let go and put it all into the songs, and once the band and Marissa got the timing down on each song, there was no stopping them once they got in it.

To say I left this show with more respect for Marissa Nadler would be an understatement. Eli Kasan’s words were really put into perspective for me with this show, because most of all like he said, they are trying, and Marissa Nadler sure gives a shit too. The stage was real on that evening at The EARL, giving me all the more reason to get off my couch on a random Tuesday to see some live music, something you just can’t get listening to the record.

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Mike Gerry

Head music fiend at OpenEars Music

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