NEWTOWN SQUARE–Music is all about teamwork and camaraderie. And on Saturday, June 18, the two performers showed exactly that. The show opener was Asia Mei, and Saturday night's performance at Burlap and Bean was her first performance in the Philadelphia area.
Mei is currently on tour promoting her latest album Introverse. Mei plays a moody piano offset with her dramatic voice. Her songs are simple and passionate. The lyrics are tiny vignettes of emotions. Most of her songs deal with feelings of alienation as a result of her many travels throughout life.
Mei was born in Russia then lived in Jerusalem during the 1990s. After attending Boston's Berklee College of Music, she lived in New York City to live the dream every young musician aspires after. Each new location brought a sense of having to start over and the feeling of disconnection.
"Sometimes you lose touch with people you were close to before, sometimes the new people you are around you can't quite connect with because you don't quite belong, and I went through a lot of that," Mei explained. Her latest move has been to the small town of Northampton, MA, with her husband Andres Wilson, who also accompanied her on guitar Saturday evening.
Her album, Introverse, was just released earlier this month and describes her experiences as a disillusioned musician who went to New York City dreaming for the success story one sees in the movies. Mei quickly realized within two weeks her recording career was not going to be handed to her. Knowing music was the only thing she wanted to do for a living kept Mei going. She did a lot of studio production work while in New York, which affected and influenced Mei when she finally got to settle down and record her own album.
Headliners The Alfred James Band performed with four local musicians featuring lead vocalist/cellist Alfred Goodrich and vocalist/guitarist Chris Despo. Despo and Goodrich has worked together for some time now and, in fact, Goodrich helped develop Despo's solo album over the past four years.
The album, I Am the Moon, was released in March of this year and had a sold out, double show at Burlap and Bean. The partnership is definitely reciprocated; earlier in the week Despo was helping Goodrich on his latest album. Goodrich said a collaborative relationship is necessary for good music.
"It takes a village to make a CD these days," joked Goodrich. While some frontmen tend to steal or bask in the spotlight, Goodrich has long since disregarded those notions.
"To me its really much, much more about the camaraderie and making good music on stage," Goodrich said.
Goodrich began his musical career by playing Appalachian lap dulcimers with his father. He also knows the mandolin, violin, didgeridoo, guitar, and a wide variety of other non-traditional instruments.
"Whatever kind of piques my fancy at the time I would try to get into and play. It's just constant experimentation," Goodrich said.
With the advancement in technology in terms of musical production, Goodrich finds himself in a crossroad. He has always focused on creating music that could easily be reproduced on stage, but is looking to break out of his traditional style and play things more electronic. But Goodrich admits an acoustic sound may still be his first love.
"I've always loved the sound of acoustic instruments," he said. "There is an inherent beauty there that is hard to reproduce electronically and it is where my heart has been."
Saturday night's show opened with a soft layer of harmonies and built into a driving rhythm that lasted throughout the two-hour set. Traditionally, the cello is a stationary instrument, but Goodrich's specially made cello was built with lightweight carbon fiber and is designed to be played standing up. Another unique aspect of his cello is that it was designed with an extra string so that he can work with higher notes and play more pieces that would be normally heard on a fiddle or violin.
If Goodrich had to sit still through an entire concert, he may have to switch instruments. His playful stage presence is not something that can be done sitting down. At one point during the show he even left the stage and began playing throughout the crowd, got up on a bench, and even went back behind the barrista station—never missing a beat.
The show consisted of a combination of feel-good O.A.R-type songs along with a few emotionally inspirational pop/rock songs. The most amazing part of watching the Alfred James Band was experiencing the connection the four band members have with each other and their instruments. Each performer shows years of musical experience with every chord played.
Towards the end of the show, The Alfred James Band invited Mei to the stage for a cover of Chris Issak's "Wicked Games." They never played together, they never even had a chance to rehearse, but it was pretty sensational.
The band tried to end the evening with a video-game influenced song, which lead into a medley of music from "Super Mario Brothers" along with a funky tune called "Riki Tiki."
After a quick negotiation with management and an audience begging for more, they played one more tune called "Waiting" and ended the show with a finale of vibrant string harmonies and rousing applause.