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Noah Gundersen Live in Grand Rapids

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Melody Bot, Apr 26, 2016.

  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    Last Friday night I saw Noah Gundersen do something I’ve seen very few artists do: walk out onstage alone, with no backing band and no opening act, sit down in a chair, pick up an acoustic guitar, and start playing. He’d interact with the audience more—and make a surprising number of jokes—later in the show, but for now, he wanted to get right to the point: the music.

    There’s something to be said for a concert with high production values. There’s something to be said for light shows and setlists where every moment has been meticulously planned — right down to the dialogue between songs. But there’s also something to be said for a show where an artist just comes out and acts like he’s playing songs in his living room. As someone who just made an entire album in his living room, that was something I appreciated about Noah’s show on Friday.

    Noah’s current tour is the second he’s done in support of his suburb 2015 offering, Carry the Ghost. The first was a full-band tour where Gundersen and his bandmates pulled out all the stops for an electric, light-show-abetted rock concert. Since he started self-releasing EPs back in 2008, Noah has been first and foremost a folk artist. However, he’s also always fantasized about fronting a rock band. He said as much when I interviewed him last summer and stressed the point on Carry the Ghost, which was about half full-band, half stripped back acoustic. The EP he released last fall for his side project, Young in the City, realized the rock band dream on record.

    For the second tour in support of Carry the Ghost, though, Noah is going it alone. As mentioned previously, he has no band. The setup onstage is a chair in front of a microphone, with two guitar stands to the right, an amplifier to the left, and a grand piano in the background. One guitar is an acoustic; one guitar is an electric. There’s a harmonica sitting on the amplifier, next to what I assume was a cup of tea. There’s a small collection of pedals on the floor, to turn Noah’s electric guitar into a spacey, echoing channel of ambience. There’s no tour bus outside, because Noah and his buddy are driving the entire tour and doing the setups on their own. This show could have been played just as easily in a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop as it was at the small auditorium where I experienced it.

    Noah Gundersen has gained a lot of new fans over the past two years, and for good reason. His 2014 full-length debut Ledges made me one of them, and still stands as my favorite album of the decade thus far. Carry the Ghost was darker and more contemplative, tackling Noah’s loss of spiritual faith and grinding an axe against the norms of the church. Those themes were especially electric on Friday night, since the show I saw took place as part of the annual concert series at Calvin College, a Christian institution located in the very Christian city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Given the makeup of the crowd—mostly students with, I presume, strong religious proclivities—I wondered if Noah might hold back a bit on the Carry the Ghost material and focus on the less provocative Ledges.

    Instead, the setlist only included three songs from Ledges, but boasted all of the most religion-damning songs from Ghost. It was a risk, but one that made those songs even more thought-provoking as the room reached pin-drop intensity, everyone hanging on each word. “Empty for the Start” and “Topless Dancer”—perhaps the linchpins from Carry the Ghost—were particularly stunning in this environment, and proved that, while Noah is only 26, he’s still one of the few songwriters willing to go deep on subjects that most others would choose to ignore completely.

    I wish more artists would take the time out of their busy schedules to do solo acoustic tours. While I would have liked to see Noah’s sister Abby with him onstage, offering vocal harmonies or violin, for the most part, seeing him perform these songs on his own was striking and spine-tingling. Of course, certain songs worked better than others in this setting. As the opener, Carry the Ghost’s “Slow Dancer” begged for some the searing electric guitar work that makes it such a stunning commencement on record. On the other hand, “Halo (Disappear/Reappear)” shown nearly as brightly live as it does in its studio form, shedding the electric guitar and lush vocal harmonies to let the lyrics cut to the bone.

    Elsewhere, Noah played “The Difference” with his echo-laden electric guitar as accompaniment, an entrancing, otherworldly take on the song that was superior to the album version. And Carry the Ghost’s “catchiest” song—second single “Jealous Love”—took on an entirely different feel when played on piano. As for the Ledges songs, only “First Defeat,” “Boathouse,” and “Cigarettes” got their due—Noah said he shies away from playing older songs because he doesn’t necessarily relate to them anymore—but all three were exquisite.

    Perhaps the biggest draw of Noah’s current tour is hearing him play the songs we haven’t heard yet on record. Predictably, I was quite taken by Gundersen’s acoustic cover of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and hope it turns up on an EP later this year—a la “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the Twenty-Something EP. Noah also played four new songs that I expect will make up a portion of his new record, whenever that sees the light of day. The first of the four—a song about a small burnout town that I’m presuming is called “Fear and Loathing”—was the best of the bunch, featuring a knockout refrain where Noah wails “No one gets a break in this town/They’re closing all the local joints down/In Fear and Loathing.” But each new song brought the goose bumps, from a piano-led ballad (probably) called “A New Religion,” a big emotive number likely titled “I’ll Be Fine,” and the set’s penultimate song, which featured a hip-hop-influenced succession of rapid rhymes in the midsection.

    It’s tough to say how much different these songs will be from Noah’s past stuff on record. After all, Carry the Ghost was mainly an evolution from Ledges in how the songs were arranged and recorded, not necessarily in how they were written. Still, it’s clear that Gundersen is still at the top of his game as a songwriter, and I frankly can’t wait to see what his next full-length ends up sounding like. A user on the site heard Noah say something about going into the studio in August, in which case we probably shouldn’t expect another LP this year. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear something from Noah this year, whether it’s a full Young in the City album, a straight-to-tape EP in the vein of Twenty-Something, or some other side project. Gundersen seems to be in his mid-2000s Ryan Adams phase right now, prolific with lots of different angles he wants to explore, so it’s highly unlikely we get to New Year’s without hearing something new from him first.


    1. Slow Dancer
    2. Halo (Disappear/Reappear)
    3. The Difference
    4. Empty from the Start
    5. David
    6. New Song 1 (Fear and Loathing?)
    7. Show Me the Light
    8. First Defeat
    9. Boathouse
    10. Selfish Art
    11. Topless Dancer
    12. Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen Cover)
    13. Jealous Love
    14. New Song 2 (A New Religion?)
    15. New Song 3 (I’ll Be Fine?)
    16. New Song 4 (?)
    17. Cigarettes

  2. sean_rugy

    select all delete Prestigious

    extremely bitter I missed this show when it came around to NYC. damn it!
  3. zmtr


    Hey Craig, this is wompedimo from the old site.

    I looked for you there but couldn't find you. Anyways it was an incredible show. "Fear and Loathing" was absolutely spine tingling.

    I remember sitting there when he started playing "Dancing in the Dark" like "Craig is fucking loving this right now"
    Craig Manning likes this.
  4. bachna84

    we are nothing more than mannequins Prestigious

    Really good review! I was hoping you'd write something up about the show.
    Craig Manning likes this.
  5. Frank Lapidus

    Regular Supporter

    Has anyone seen any videos of the new songs pop up online? Just did a quick YouTube search and couldn't find anything. Thanks!
  6. bachna84

    we are nothing more than mannequins Prestigious

    No, I haven't.

    Before he played his first new song in Cleveland, he asked everybody not to record any of the new songs so that people can hear them for the first time the way Noah wants them to be heard. From what I could tell, people were respectful of that.
  7. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    I was going to message you on the site, but then I didn't know your new username/whether you'd made the move. Glad you enjoyed the show. I was over in the front, on the right side facing the stage.

    None of the new songs are up, but there are a few vids of the Springsteen cover.

    Dave Diddy likes this.
  8. zmtr


    He asks (at all shows) that nobody records his new songs.
  9. Dave Diddy

    Grief is only love that’s got no place to go Supporter

    While I loved seeing him with the full band, I'm super jealous I'm missing out on this stripped down tour.
    coleslawed likes this.
  10. Frank Lapidus

    Regular Supporter

    That's awesome that people are very respectful of his wishes. As much as I want to hear what the new tunes sound like, I can't complain that an artists fans respect the wishes of said artist. Looks like I need to try and figure out a way to make it to this tour now.
  11. zmtr


    Indeed. "Fear and Loathing" and the Springsteen cover was worth the price of admission.
  12. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    All four new songs were pretty great, wouldn't you say?
  13. zmtr


    Definitely. That one certainly stuck out though. By stuck out I mean it might be the best song I've ever heard from him.

    No musician has meant more to me over the past couple of years. I pride myself on knowing the ins and outs of all of his songs. I did not know Slow Dancer was about wet dreams though. He KILLED that song that night. So incredible.
  14. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    *Topless Dancer

    Yeah, he mentioned that when I interviewed him last year. That song and "Empty from the Start" are sort of companions in their indictments of religion. I think those are his two best songs, personally, even after hearing "Fear and Loathing."
  15. zmtr


    Duh, not enough coffee yet.

    Empty from the Start is my favorite Noah song too. I grew up under the same circumstances so songs like "Empty from the Start", "Jesus, Jesus", "Show Me The Light" always hit me hard.

    Wish I could have seen more of Grand Rapids as it was my first time there but just the set was worth the 2hr40min drive.
    Craig Manning likes this.
  16. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    This was the second show I've seen at that venue. Twin Forks was there last January I think and I got to meet Chris Carrabba. That was cool.

    GR is neat. I don't make it downtown all that much, but it's a pretty cool town. Had a couple beers and an incredible burger at HopCat before walking back to the venue for the show, so that was a lot of fun.
  17. froleo


    Here is a professionally shot performance of Dancing In the Dark that he did for BBC Radio Scotland.
  18. Will Montei


    @Craig Manning Calvin is pretty intentional about bringing in artists with wide-ranging beliefs and styles. Did they have a Q&A with him before or after the show?
  19. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    After. But it seemed like the religion question (along with a few others) were a bit awkward and uncomfortable for Noah. I felt like he was tiptoeing around his answers to try not to offend anyone. Not a great Q&A, imo. He was a lot more at ease and fun when I talked to him last August.