Justin Levinson closes at Lizard Lounge (8/13)
On a Saturday night in early August, I went to Lizard Lounge in
Cambridge, for an all-indie show including Audrey Ryan, The Shills and Justin Levinson. In all honesty, lately these types of ventures had been unsuccessful for me, so I wasn’t expecting much especially since I didn’t know any of the artists; but, I decided to give it a try anyway and I am glad I did!
As I walked in, Audrey Ryan was playing the first song of the night. It took me about 30 seconds to come in, sit down and fall in love with her music. I found her to be fresh and creative, her songs full of interesting -and pretty- melodic lines. Her voice had a nice, clear tone and she had good control of her singing; she reminded me of Regina Specktor, somehow. She blew me away in the songs where she used loops, playing and recording multiple instruments until she achieved full arrangements; in these, the only thing that needed some attention was her beats, because they were unclear at times. Anyway, her girl-next-door vibe and nice rapport with the audience was also a plus in terms of her overall performance; I thought she was quite brilliant. In my opinion, she might have been the highlight of the night; however, there were a few aspects of the performance that broke the “spell” her music created. Had she been more invested in the actual performance of the show, a bit more organized and clear about what she wanted to do next and how she wanted her set to flow, it may have been just perfect. Unfortunately, the reality was that the show lacked fluidity. Still, I am interested and excited to hear some more from her.
After listening to Audrey Ryan I wasn’t sure I wanted to listen to anyone else, really; but of course, the night was still young and next up was the band The Shills. This band was not what I was expecting; they were actually better. Their performance was good. As a matter of fact, their lead vocalist –Bryan Murphy- had the best stage presence out of everyone performing that night. He was well invested in his performance, had charisma and a good connection with the audience members that were there to see them, which is something that I enjoyed watching. The rest of the members -Eric Ryrie, Dave Sicilian and James Zaner- were adequate musicians, looked comfortable and supported his performance very nicely. Unfortunately, in terms of their music, I can’t say that I was too impressed. Although some of their ideas were really good, I’m not sure they all worked every time. I found myself confused by some sudden changes in the middle of their songs; in my opinion, there were too many musical ideas put together at once. Instead of having cleaner and straight-forward arrangements, it seemed as if they tried to include everything they came up with in each song, especially the earlier ones. Fortunately, after Murphy announced that they are currently in the recording studio, they played some of their new songs and these were much better. The newer compositions had a more mature sound, they were taking advantage of the longer and softer melodies that showcased their best attributes as musicians and were better suited for his powerful voice. Also, there was the cohesiveness that was lacking in the earlier compositions. So, all in all, I think The Shills gave its audience a good performance and something to look forward to.
Last but not least, that night’s headliner took the stage. Justin Levinson sang and played his own set, backed up by some good musicians. They all seemed to be serious about their performances; their ideas were creative, tasteful and unpretentious. As with The Shills, Justin Levinson’s music sometimes jumped from one musical idea to the other; the difference was that, in his case, these ideas had that cohesiveness that tied them together. At times country-folk, at others indie-rock or even rockabilly, his music was quirky and smart. The melodies were not only beautiful but also interesting, and Levinson, as a vocalist, had a nice, soft tone that was well suited for his music. The song “I was so wrong” was one of the highlights of his performance; even his rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” was very well done. In overall, this was the best performance of the night. The musicians were great; they achieved a good balance and communicated well. The one thing that I missed from Justin Levinson himself was the connection to the audience. He seemed somehow disconnected from the rest of us which is even more noticeable in a smaller venue like this one, where people are watching you so close.
In any case, even though all three acts had some things that need to be worked on, I left the Lizard Lounge pleasantly surprised. I was looking for some cool, interesting music and I found it. No matter what your preference is, there was music for everyone. Good music from young and talented artists.