Concert Review: BSR Acoustic Night at Last Exit Books and Coffeehouse
Written by Reid Smith on November 12, 2016
Artists: Northern Whale, Colorblind, Ohio Weather Band
Scribed by: Conor Battles
This past Friday night, Kent’s Last Exit Bookstore and Coffeehouse served as an ideal venue to escape from the autumn chill with a hot drink and a night of intimate (mostly) acoustic performances.
Black Squirrel Radio’s Acoustic Night brought in three area groups, Northern Whale, Colorblind and the Ohio Weather Band, to serenade the crowd up close and personal. The mingling aromas of rich coffee beans and musty shelves of thousands of old books and vinyl records wafted through the building and made for a comfortable, homey setting. There are not enough kind words to be said about the Last Exit staff, who, in the middle of converting their small front cafe and seating area into a uniquely intimate concert venue, remained on-demand to pull shots of espresso all night for the thirty-something people that came and went throughout the evening.
Youngstown-based Northern Whale opened the night with a slight bending of the cardinal rule behind an acoustic show by plugging in two electric guitars. That said, the mellow, relaxed pace and tone of their set was still a far cry from the amped-up intensity of their usual fare. Frontman Jake Capezzuto’s restrained vocals brought a unique spin to songs like “Deep” and “Peter Pan,” while steady rhythm work and occasional vocal harmonies from Brandon Fisher and Scott Davis built a solid musical foundation. Stylistically, the music jumped from the opulent crescendocore of “Scary Monsters” to the Jack Johnson-esque stream-of-consciousness folk-pop of “Tropical Punch.” An unexpected highlight of the set was a three-part medley of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” sung by Capazzuto, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” from Davis, and a third song from Fisher that I’m sorry to say I was too busy grooving out to faux-Michael Jackson to identify in time.
The second act of the night was Youngstown punk-pop act Colorblind, who, like Northern Whale, scaled down their four-piece rocked-out sound. Fletcher Dunham and Ryan Betts came out with a stripped-down two acoustic guitar setup and proceeded to put a gentler twist on their more amplified material. The lively, bluesy stomp-turned-pop-punk anthem, “I Wrote You Something You Could Dance To,” set a raucous pace for the set, and was cunningly countered by the following song, the more relaxed, introspective “I’m Not Dancing Anymore.” Likewise, the biting, angry churn of “Daybreak” was balanced out by their cheerful “cover of a cover” of Bayside’s take on the Smoking Popes cut “Megan.” The best song of the set, and perhaps the purest crystallization of Colorblind unique creative palette, was a number called “Typical Love Song.” While it starts out as a piece of sugary, straightforward power-pop-punk, Dunham brilliantly subverts genre tropes through deft wit and a keen sense of comedic self-awareness. Before the set ended, the band shared that they would be heading to the studio next month to cut their debut LP, which, if the quality of this performance is any indication, is not to be missed.
Rounding out the evening were Corey King and Ray Lumpp of Akron’s Ohio Weather Band. A far cry from the pop songwriting of Colorblind or Northern Whale, the OWB ended the night with a rootsy, bluegrass-accented folk set, replete with twanging, resonant guitar, organic by-hand percussion from Lumpp, and even a Dylan-esque harmonica mouthpiece. King’s mellow, earnest vocals supplemented the music and imbued in it a sense of weary wisdom, as songs like “Sunburn” and “Barflies” felt as ageless and shapeless as the best folk music. For all the wistful folksiness of the set, however, there was room for fun. A cover of the Bad Books’ ode to Russia’s greatest tale of infidelity, “Pyotr,” elicited more than a few laughs from the crowd, despite the gruesome imagery behind it. The emotional high-water-mark of the night came in its last twenty minutes, as King and Lumpp went into an impassioned, mournful rendition of the late Leonard Cohen’s iconic “Hallelujah.”
By the end of The Ohio Weather Band’s set, the roughly twenty-five people who had stayed through the whole evening looked over the merch tables, drained the last dregs of their cups, and chatted merrily with the bands, with representatives from Black Squirrel Radio, and with each other. The night was one of intimacy, both through the tender strains of the music, and through the tough logistics of squeezing a few dozen people into a midsized coffeehouse. For the price of a cup of coffee, a local band’s t-shirt, or a simple donation, it was a night well spent.