Last weekend(Sept 17, 2011) I had the pleasure of hearing Wes Swing perform at Old Town House Concert(notice there’s a space between town and house it’s not an old townhouse 😉 ). The performance was captivating, mesmerizing, and overall an amazing experience.
For starters some of you may be uninitiated to the concept of a house concert. These offer a fabulous way for musicians to perform in an intimate setting(literally someone’s house) where they can connect with the audience in a unique way(lots of dialog and interaction). I was first introduced to this concept through a good friend in my neighborhood. She has established Old Town House Concerts. Her house concert starts around 6:30pm with a shared potluck style meal, then between 7:30 and 8pm the artist of the evening opens the first set which lasts around an hour at which time an intermission is taken and dessert is usually served. Everyone in attendance brings a side dish to share and donates money to the ‘Love Bucket’ which goes directly to the musician(s).
The latest performer at the Old Town House Concerts venue in Harrisonburg, VA was cellist/guitarist/whistler/singer Wes Swing. Wes is a master of stringed instruments and looped string arrangement. To try to classify his music into just one genre is limiting it, but I know people need to know what it sounds like and genre labels help folks figure out if they’ll like particular music. On iTunes, his music is classified as Alternative, but when I added the songs from CD they came in as Country/Folk.
His music is multi-faceted and multi-layered. Wes draws influence from areas such as folk, classical, alternative, and rock. He confesses an admiration for Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters and also an affinity for Icelandic artist Bjork. One only need listen to a few songs to hear the influence of minimalist, classical, and atonal composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Robert Schumann. He takes inspiration from these and other influences to produce an accessible and deeply layered rich sound wall through the use of a looping pedal that allows live recording of multiple cello tracks both pizzicato plucked and fully bowed. Many of Wes’ songs borrow lyrical influence or content from the many poets he has found influential. From a musical training standpoint Wes started on violin and also learned guitar as well then switched to his current instrument of choice cello later in college. As an amateur musician myself(having also followed in his same path of violin to cello) it was a special treat for me to be able to chat with Wes pre-concert, during intermission, and after the show. Wes was so approachable and sincere and I had a fantastic time talking with him about cello, musical influences and music in general.
His creativity doesn’t stop with just music. He took part in devising the video for his song “Sleeping Moon” which uses inventive stop-motion video techniques that is a pure artistic joy to watch.(see for yourself).
For our particular concert Wes was joined by several friends[Jeff Gregerson – upright bass, Brian Caputo – drums, Anna Matijasic Hennessy – violin]. They opened with what I will call Wes’ ‘Poetry Cycle’ – “All Other Love” – a T.S. Eliot poem forms the lyrical base to a multi-loop cello piece. There are two versions that Wes performs of this song. The opener was the live version which includes several looped cello parts that Wes starts building and layering and then the other instruments join in until there is a wall of sound that immerses the listener. Here’s a video of that performance so you can get a taste for how amazing this was.
From there we moved into “In a Station of the Metro” with lyrics from an Ezra Pound poem. This song made heavy use of violin ‘false harmonics’ – the haunting whistle like sounds produced by a partial fingering of the string. For the third piece Wes explained that his looping pedal could also invert a sound and gave us the appropriately mirror image looped song – “Through a Fogged Glass”.
Wes changed over to his guitar to give us a beautiful cover version of Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will” and explained that he had heard someone else cover this song and was inspired to perform it based on that cover. Next up was the originally titled(Wes shared that he[like many] doesn’t particularly enjoy coming up with song titles) “Instrumental 1”. This instrumental featured a nice mix of percussion bells with pizzicato cello. “Dilate” was next and was a nice showcase for the percussion of Brian Caputo as it featured a heavier drum sound.
At this point Wes pulled out the album version of “All Other Love” and invited us to sing along in a divided house left and right side sing along. One side sings “All other love finds speech” then the other half of the audience sings “This Love is silent, This Love is silent”. It was a completely moving experience as the ethereal strings played while we sang along. The first set was closed with the song “Ulysses”. I’d write more about this but I think I got lost in the moment and was still in awe over the sing along that I don’t remember that song as well. I would be remiss to not mention that we were using the streaming service Stageit.com to stream the concert online for some folks who couldn’t make it. It was at this point that session ended.
During intermission we chatted about music and enjoyed some great Apple Strudel.
Wes opened the second set on guitar again with “Middle of the Night/Sleeping Moon”. While this usually features a banjo on the album version this live offering was still fantastic. Wes described the process of the stop motion buttons in the Sleeping Moon video after this set.
Next up back on cello was appropriately titled “Ghosts(Part 2)” (the one without piano part) which featured overtones and undertones and a haunting overall vibe. The next piece was an unreleased song from his next CD called “And the Heart…”. It’s always a treat when an artist does some stuff from upcoming albums.
Wes then invited us to join in again and taught us “Song Twelve” or as Brian Caputo might call it the ooh song(Brian shared during intermission that he remembers most of the songs via their lyrics rather than their titles. This song once again filled the room and you could almost feel the buzz of voices and instruments to your core(it was fantastic).
Wes then talked about how he would like to meet a few artists namely Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Bjork. The next song was a cover of Bjork’s “Unravel”.
The closing song for the concert was the cryptic “Lullaby”. To me the lyrics remind me of The Killers murder trilogy of albums in tone as it sounds like the author is saying that he has murdered someone and can’t sleep because the police have discovered the body(at least that’s where I put my mind’s eye when listening to it). It has an upbeat cheery opening then a rather dark over toned chorus – which feeds into this vibe for me. This one also featured Wes’ great whistling. He has one of the best concert whistles I’ve ever heard.
If you haven’t heard him yet, go to Bandcamp where you can stream his album “Through a Fogged Glass” for free online. or pickup the CD on iTunes or Bandcamp – you won’t regret it – it is simply fantastic.
For those who missed this concert check out Wes and friends this Saturday Oct 1st, 2011 at The Garage in Charlottesville, VA or find out where he’ll be on Facebook or his website and catch him at a future show – you won’t regret it. NOTE: Wes will be performing another free show at The Southern Sat Oct 1st 2011.