Leif Vollebekk – Mercury Lounge – February 28, 2017
Leif Vollebekk opened his performance at Mercury Lounge on Tuesday recalling an earlier trip to NYC when his show sold exactly one advanced ticket and was canceled. That seems highly unlikely to happen again as Vollebekk and his trio kept the roomful of paying customers rapt and enthusiastic for the better part of 80 minutes last night. The set opened with “Vancouver Time” off of his just-released-album, Twin Solitude. Backed by just a bassist and a drummer, the band playing together for the first time in a crowded Mercury Lounge, doing brand-new songs, you could forgive him for being a bit nervous, but Vollebekk sounded at ease, beginning on the electric piano, his words taking center stage from the start. Throughout the night there were almost too many great lyrics, each song crammed with several phrases you just wanted to write down. The opening number featured lovely imagery, like “buffalo clouds over the plain,” and real emotions, like “I’m only leaving because I can’t stay.”
Often when songwriters are capable of delivering lyrics like Vollebekk can, the tendency is to cram as many words into a line as possible. But he is the opposite: His songs are filled with pauses, the blank spaces allowing the words to linger and to let the music seep in to accentuate, drums and bass adding weight while Vollebekk added electric piano or guitar or harmonica. He was equally adept at filling the spaces between songs, joking around and drawing in the audience with his banter, endearing himself to the room. A riff about Neil Young’s tuning became an impromptu half cover of “Cowgirl in the Sand” that actually sounded like it might have legs for a bit.
The set was mostly anchored by the new material and was better for it. The theme of many of the songs seemed to be that of place, not just the settings—Vancouver, Michigan, Telluride, Colo.—but of the coming and going to each. In a way, it was road-trip music, not necessarily music for listening to in transit, but more about it, the gaps and empty spaces to fill with thoughts and images and music. Vollebekk sang the word “Telluride” almost like it was three—“Tell you right”—and on “Michigan,” he sang, “You and me, Robert, we ramble on,” which I want to believe is a Zeppelin reference as well as the snow piling up behind him in the rearview mirror. The trio encored with “Into the Ether,” Vollebekk picking up a violin to add some atmospheric loops, the spaces between lyrics filled to capacity, the room equally so. —A. Stein | @Neddyo