Live at 3rd & Lindsley, Nashville, TN,
January 20, 2018
It was the second of two sold out shows in Nashville. That alone should tell you something. Anderson East has fans. When I was given a last minute chance to see the guy behind one of the most impressive recorded voices I’ve ever heard, perform live, I wasn’t hesitating. I needed to see if all the studio magic could translate to a room like 3rd & Lindsley, where I’ve seen many shows before.
The usual tables and chairs were removed from the floor. This created standing room only and it was packed tight long before even the opening act, J.S. Ondara, took the stage. People grabbed a spot and they didn’t move. I was fortunate to find a space next to the lighting guy and I never moved either, not for five hours. Being honest, the first three hours were close to grueling. My back was starting to scream and I was hoping it was all going to be worth it. The final two saved the whole thing.
Opening artist J.S. Ondara, a native of Nairobi now living in the United States, came out quite simply with a guitar and a harmonica. His voice can only be described as perfectly crystal clear. It’s actually fascinating to listen to just for it’s clarity. Without knowing very much about him prior, I focused very heavily on his lyrics. I quickly detected what I thought was something of either a political or social tendency in his words. He sang several songs that he described himself as songs about “America”. One in particular that he explained he came to write after watching “Colbert” on the internet and seeing comedian John Mulaney describe the Trump Presidency as a “horse loose in a hospital”. It was then that I decided I was correct that his songs did have a political/social slant.
While some of the crowd seemed to have a laugh at that and also seemed to enjoy his music, I always think it’s risky to introduce politics into what may be a mixed audience. All in all, he showed good musicianship, a definite sense of humor and timing (there was a “gear malfunction” with a guitar strap that he handled with a joke and moved things right along) and I thought he did well.
Anderson East took the stage at exactly 9:20 PM. Space is limited, but that didn’t stop him from bringing out his entire band, which consisted of a keyboard player, a small horn section, a backup singer, a bassist, a guitarist and a drummer. Full on sound is what you get if you have his latest album, “Encore”, and full on sound is what you get if you come out to see him support that record.
Blasting right off with “Sorry You’re Sick” from “Encore”, East was dressed very simply. Black jeans, black t-shirt, black jacket. Make no mistake though, he brought every last part of that complex voice that’s making us shake our heads and say, “Where is THAT coming from?!”
Many artists like to open with a bang up number then immediately go into a ballad. It’s a formula that works. I’ll tell you what really works. NOT going into a ballad, and throwing a hot, pounding crazy song that the crowd knows and loves right in their face as the second song. “Girlfriend”, brilliantly co-written by East, Dave Cobb, Aaron Raitiere and Tim Bergling, had those packed-in-like-sardines fans bouncing around and doing their best to dance, while singing along to every word. I often look at setlists and think they’re a little bit like a chess game, you really have to think a few songs ahead, based on the city you’re playing, how big the audience, the room, etc. This was just the first move on this particular chessboard of setlists that put it up near my personal “Best Constructed Setlists Ever”. Circulate the blood. These people have been standing a long, long time.
Now. Now it was time for a ballad. Wrong. “Surrender”, a track off “Encore” that reminds me of a song straight out of 1960’s Motown and just begs you to add it to your party playlist was next and there wasn’t anybody going to sleep yet, least of all Anderson East. This guy was groovin’ and dancin’ and if his facial expressions don’t just suck you right into the mix, you need to put your phone away and look.
Four songs in and East finally took a breath and spoke to the audience. He talked about being so glad to be back in Nashville, which, as expected drew whistles and shouts. “Your enthusiasm is palatable”, was East’s reply, and then he broke things down and got sultry. “If You Keep Leaving Me” IS a ballad, but it’s no sleeper. It’s co-written by East, Chris Stapleton and Aaron Raitiere. Watching East sing it live is mesmerizing and you would swear he’s not just singing lyrics, but living them right there in that very moment. “If you keep leaving me, I’ll keep loving you.” This is a guy that’s a glutton for punishment for a woman he just can’t stay away from. His mannerisms are reminiscent of Joe Cocker and his voice is like old school R&B. It’s the best kind of ballad I know. The kind that glues your face to the artist until the very last note.
“Encore” actually boasts a cover tune. “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” by Willie Nelson is as country as it gets, and East quipped that everyone keeps insisting that he and his band are country, so they might as well do a country song, so this was the one they chose. Let’s be clear though, this is definitely Anderson East’s version of the song. While Nelson’s is perfect country gold, East has firmly stamped his own sound all over this cover. Listen to the two one after another and you’ll almost swear they’re different songs. A tale of being broken and giving up. This is where East’s blues power shines through. I’m convinced he can sing any genre and slip into character for whatever type of music he’s working with. He truly feels everything he sings and the audience, in turn, can feel it too. It’s so powerful. This is just another song that he really excels at when it comes to this. I should also point out that East took a moment to introduce his keyboard player, Philip Towns to the crowd, calling him a “genius”. I would agree, every time I heard the piano throughout the night, it added the most illustrious touch of beauty to whatever else was going on. Thank you, Philip Towns.
Alright, so two slower, heavy and emotional tunes in a row. Anybody starting to lean? Doing the long blink? Not a chance. Setlist still working like a charm, and while we’re talking about the pretty sounding piano, almost on cue, there it was next. We were going to church. Kind of. From the album, “Delilah”, the boys in the band (plus the female backup singer) brought us “Devil In Me”. This one is just delicious. I was so glad they pulled it out of the back of the rack for the show. Giving the fans in the crowd a knowing look as East sang the lyrics, “It’s Saturday night and I’m high and I’ve been drinking” gave way to raised drinks and roars of approval. They knew this one and they were happy to hear it again.
I said I wouldn’t do it, but I’m doing it. I said to myself, do not tell personal stories to connect them to your review this time. I thought I could do it, but I guess I can’t. I’m accepting that it’s becoming my own ridiculous trademark and those that like it will stick with me. I must confess, one of my vices is SongPop. I play it like it’s my job. One of the categories is “Epic Long Songs”. The next song on East’s setlist was “Learning”, a tribute to his father. What does “Learning” have to do with my SongPop addiction? Nothing except that while “Learning” was playing, I kept on seeing flashes of the “Epic Long Songs” category in my game. The recorded version of “Learning” is 4:39, which, by today’s standards is actually a little bit long. Epically long? I’m not sure about that, but as the band was jamming, and East was simply allowing himself to become immersed in each individual player’s sounds, it sure seemed like an “Epic Long Song”. It was intense and it reminded me of going to concerts way back in the day, when longer album tracks would actually get played and it was truly a musical experience. I’m not sure who enjoyed this one more, the fans or East himself.
Remember how I said the stage was a little crowded? They opted for that full sound? Hey, why not make it a little fuller? Bring on the strings! “We’re trying to class this place up”, East joked. Well, now there’s a string section tucked neatly behind the piano and off we go with “King For A Day” from “Encore”. Interestingly, this one was co-written by Anderson East, Chris Stapleton and his wife, Morgane Stapleton. Another perfectly placed song on the list. Strings were the cherry on top.
“Without You” is a ballad, and it is, without a doubt, one of the best ballads, sung by one of the best voices, backed by one of the best touring bands I have ever witnessed on that stage. Oh, and the strings? They stuck around. This song was like a religious experience. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again many times, I’m not the biggest ballad person, but when I find one I love, I love it to the moon and back. This is one of them, and seeing East sing it live was so incredibly moving. Again, it’s like every word he sings is something he’s really living through at the time he’s singing it. That’s a compelling performer. He’s like nobody else.
After that jaw dropping number, things revved up with “Satisfy Me”, which gave East the opportunity to jam a bit with the very talented Scotty Murray, his guitarist who hails from Yuma, Arizona.
Pushing the gas pedal down even harder, next up was the first single off of the “Encore” album, “All On My Mind”. Now this one, everyone knew. This created an instant club atmosphere. People were dancing and singing and bopping up and down. Believe me, things were not boring prior, but when the band started playing this number, it was like a beer truck just pulled up in the middle of a barren desert. These people KNEW this song word for word, and they loved it.
Following the madness of “All On My Mind”, everything quieted down, and Anderson East stopped to chat with everyone for a minute. He humbly talked about releasing new music and how it was exciting, but at the same time, scary, because there’s always the fear that people are going to hate it. Judging by the bodies packed in so tight they could barely lift their drinks to their mouths, nobody there hated East’s new music, or at the very least, they hadn’t yet heard it and were giving it a first chance by buying a ticket to the show. He thanked everyone for coming and broke into the final song of the evening, “This Too Shall Last”, a really beautiful song written by East, Natalie Hemby and Aaron Raitiere.
Exiting the stage briefly, the band returned rather quickly for their encore, where they performed three more songs.
The first was a song called “Cabinet Door”, which is the final track on “Encore”. It is the most unique song on the album. It’s also extremely sad. East came back out on stage by himself with his guitar and for a few minutes, just allowed himself to ramble a while about how we need to realize that what we have right now is really all we have. It wasn’t deep, it was just real. I thought it was like talking with a friend on a road trip. Simple conversation about life. I think after hearing him talk for those few minutes, I would put him in the “People I Would Like to Meet” category. Simply because he came off as authentic. For all of his talent, fame and fortune, it’s what’s underneath that matters. He’s a regular guy that has an outstanding gift and he’s chosen to hone it and share it with us. We’re lucky people.
Then he sang “Cabinet Door”. Just him and the guitar. Almost spoke the words. This is a song that might be downright painful for some people to listen to because they see themselves in the lyrics. Even if you don’t see yourself, you might see someone you know. It’s a song that can bite, but then, some of the greatest songs ever written were painful. If it’s hard to hear, it’s probably damned good songwriting. “Cabinet Door” was co-written by Anderson East and Jillia Jackson.
Thankfully, we weren’t sent out into the night after being chilled to the bone by that song. As good as it is, it was really cool to hear East say, “Let’s have some fun!” The whole band came back out and away they went into “Find “Em, Fool ‘Em and Forget ‘Em” which got everybody dancing again. Whew! That felt better! The craziness was back on! Like I said, this setlist was so close to perfect. We were given a lesson in appreciation that tore brush burns into the sides of our hearts, and then healed by a pop up party.
Wait though, East had one more move on this chessboard of a setlist. This was a three song encore. What was he saving for last? I had looked over some of his past setlists from shows around the country, so I had ideas, but he isn’t one to repeat the same show over and over. It could have been a few different things. I could have been surprised, but that wasn’t happening either. When you’re standing next to the light guy all night and the setlist is taped up at his station, it’s hard not to notice. I knew, and I have to tell you this, I had been waiting ALL night for this final song. Why? I had just reviewed the “Encore” album earlier in January, and I mentioned in that review what my favorite track was. Turned out that track was the final encore. I really couldn’t believe my luck.
“House Is A Building” in my opinion, is one of the most stunning songs ever. Period. When writing the review, I was scrambling, trying to find out who wrote it, and I couldn’t definitively locate the writers to credit them. Now that I’ve purchased “Encore” on vinyl and have the liner notes, I know that it was written by Anderson East, Natalie Hemby and Aaron Raitiere, and I can’t thank them enough for creating this masterpiece. I could go on forever about how much I am in touch with this song, but that’s for another time. I only knew when I reviewed the album, that I wanted to someday see this song performed live. I had no idea I would get the chance to see that happen so soon. Thanks to some very special people, it did, and my expectations were met and magnified so much I have no words. East’s dynamic vocals attached to musical poetry that, for me, has personal meaning, put me over the edge. Stunning. Everyone on that stage made this stunning. What a way to end the night. Anderson East just put me in checkmate. He won. Somebody pick up my pieces.
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Anderson East is currently touring. Dates and information at andersoneast.com