(ASBURY PARK, NJ – March 3, 2009) – I wasn't originally planning on writing a review of this show, but figured I'd do a write-up since people have emailed me saying I hadn't done much with the blog lately. Although I've been going to shows regularly, I just don't feel the need to do show reviews unless something really clicks for me. Tonight was one of those nights. Even though the lineup featured three artists I've seen quite often, the show itself was worth writing about.
Michael Brett led off with a set of tunes that should form the bulk of his next record once he gets a chance to lay down the tracks. The set included, "Gambling Man," "Labor Day," "Let the Show Begin," "Vanishing Act," and "Old Ghosts." It's interesting watching Michael evolve as a songwriter. As he's blended his work within the coffeehouse scene with shows at venues like The Saint, it's appears that he's been paying attention to the vast range of good songwriters in the area. That, in turn, has led Michael to raise up his game a notch or two. His new songs sound better than the ones on his last record, which were better tunes than on his previous record (a record he's pretty much disowned). In essence, his next record should be one worth checking out. Hopefully he'll be able to release something later this year.
Keith Monacchio was up next and also featured a set completely comprised of new material. Keith has been one of the area's most consistent songwriters for a while now, both with his work with The Commons as well as solo shows. Like Michael Brett, the new songs from Keith are among his best – and that's saying a lot. In fact, I think one of the songs he performed tonight – "Coffeehouse" – just might be his best yet. His set included, "Out of Reach," "Spare Parts in a Chop Shop," "Just So You Know," "Indiana Jones," "If You Want Me To," "Louisa – Guess Who," "Coffeehouse," and "Three Times." The highlight for me had to be when Keith performed "Coffeehouse" and sang the line about the cash register mere seconds before Scott Stamper hit the cash register himself. The combination was so funny and beautiful at the same time that I think Keith might want to record a version that includes the noise from a cash register, if he hasn't already.
The final act of the night, the Eryn Shewell Band, is the reason for this review. I've been very impressed with Eryn and her music for several years now, but I think the band has fully come into their own now. They recently returned from recording in Nashville and the trip seems to have done them a lot of good. They've got a sort of confidence now that was lacking somewhat in the past. Take Eryn for example. In the few years that I've known her, I've watched Eryn transform from a timid backup singer to a full band leader that's clearly in charge. Likewise, her music is eloquently executed by some of the area's strongest musicians. Together, they all combine to produce one if the vest live shows you will ever see.
In fact, I think her band's music is meant to be experienced live. Yes, their studio recordings are good, but they pale in comparison with the thunderous roar of her live shows. It's an experience that can't be matched on tape; It's part roadhouse, part arena, and part tent revival - a sound that picks you up and raises you to a place that few can reach.
It's funny, thinking about how so many bands compete to be the house band for the Stone Pony while Eryn and her band just might be the ultimate house band for The Saint. Their music fits the club like a glove, filling every crevice of the joint as if the club was her own. And tonight, it was.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.