A Correspondent Writes In Praise of the Fistful of Mercy And Brendon Benson Shows This Week

A correspondent who has just had an unusually exciting week of live music attendance writes in:

“After the glorious spectacle that was the Sufjan Stevens’ concert at New York’s Beacon Theater, it was hard to imagine that the music I was in for the rest of the week could keep up with that quality and level of talent. But the second Hallelujah Chorus came in the form of Fistful of Mercy at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in DC, a location that did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by the musicians performing on the synagogue’s bimah Tuesday night. It doesn’t seem appropriate to call this performance a concert. It was more a high holy week jam session with some amazing musicians — Dhani Harrison, Joseph Arthur, Ben Harper and Jessy Greene.    From what I could see, they had 13 guitars, a keyboard, bongos.  The three guitarists were augmented by Green on her violin against the stained glass backdrop.   The show was actually better than I expected, for while the song “Fistful of Mercy” instantly grabbed me when I heard it on the radio, I found the rest of As I Called You Down disappointing. There was nothing disappointing about this live show. From start to finish it was a rousing and spiritual experience unfolding in in the sanctuary. “Fistful of Mercy” was a tour de force rising all the way up to the domed roof.  Lest you think the evening was all solemn and pious, the musicians filled the time between songs exchanging quips and jokes including one extended riff on becoming a heavy metal band.  The final song of the encore, “With Whom You Belong” was performed, unplugged, at the edge of the stage/bimah, and the band then wade into the crowd, Fleshtones style.

“The culmination of musical high holy week was a night of pure rock’n’roll at the another music mecca — the 9:30 Club.    It was a night of smart, creative, interesting rock’n’roll that you get from Brendan Benson, backed by the Posies.  I love Brendan Benson’s songs because his music is so full of surprises with melodies taking fabulous twists and turns across a song.  On his albums, those twists come across as precise movements but can sometimes border on being too neat’n’clean.  Nothing neat and clean about the ruckus raised by Benson and the Posies Wednesday night. On every song, the talent and quality of the musicians was on display and the twists and turns taken through the Brendan Benson classics were all present and accounted for.  Benson was the reserved and bemused straight man to the playful Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer.  Benson and the gang closed their encore and my musical high holy week with an homage to Alex Chilton and a superb rendition of ‘September Gurls.'”

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