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Gathering for a Good Cause GatherFest at Cisco Brewers in Portsmouth, NH (9/15)

Updated: May 9, 2020

Written by Tim Lemon

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I’ve often talked about the unifying powers of music, how people coming together due to a common love of the musician(s) on stage and collectively riding the vibes that are sent forth tends to morph the individuals into one superorganism as the audience. And at any ordinary show, the music is both the purpose for the gathering and the force that binds. However, the music took a backseat to the purpose for GatherFest 2019 at Cisco Brewers in Portsmouth, NH on 9/15. The annual event is put on by Gather, a non-profit organization that operates a local food pantry and runs innovative food distribution programs to help end hunger in New Hampshire where over 10% of the state population is food insecure. Bringing people together to gather for a worthy cause, this year’s lineup included Matt Lorenz AKA The Suitcase Junket, Sam Robbins, The Reconstructed, and The Mallett Brothers Band.

I found out about the event by following Lorenz’s tour schedule so I really have him to thank for a full afternoon of music and introducing me to some new bands in addition to the event’s cause. It was also his performance in Portland this past April that inspired me to start writing about my live show experiences so it was a true pleasure to watch him retake his post behind the repurposed collection of household items and trash-picked objects that he has affectionately dubbed “the pile”. Even upon seeing him perform a second time, I am still in awe of the man’s coordination. He strums the guitar with his right hand and occasionally picks up a shaker between strums while allowing his left hand to focus on fretwork. He uses his right foot to play a suitcase kick drum, high hats, and a cigar box of silverware and foraged animal bones while his left focuses on hitting an old gas tank, kitchen pot, and saw blade. With each of his limbs doing at least two things, except for that (hardly) underachieving left hand, Lorenz is like an ambidextrous octopus on stage and each performance is a workout. The dexterity with which he navigates the pile is something to behold and it was cool to see him grow more comfortable with the songs off of Mean Dog, Trampoline as he has been touring behind the album since its release show in Portland. With a timbre reminiscent of Tom Petty, Lorenz pushed his smoky vocals to the outer reaches of their range at times, especially on songs like “Dandelion Crown” and “Everything I Like”. However, that risk of a little crackle or rasp was well worth the reward of the character it added to each song in addition to displaying Lorenz’s dedication to his craft and performance. His vocal quality, sometimes distorted by a second microphone as though coming through an old radio, also meshed well with the heavily-fuzzed, dare I say Jack White-esque, guitar tones on songs like “Stay Too Long” and “Dying Star”. These more gritty and rugged numbers were a perfect contrast for the softer, fingerpicked songs like “Everybody Else” and “Ten Rivers”, the latter of which allowed Lorenz to showcase a technique known as throat singing, which creates a reverberant hummed whistle effect. Mixing in a newly-written, uptempo blues, fingerpicked number with a choral refrain about blackholes and overdoses, I look forward to hearing that one evolve like the tracks off of Mean Dog, Trampoline. Seeing that Lorenz is a New England native, it seems like I’ll get that chance at some point down the road as I’m positive the novelty of his performances will never wear off.

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While the mainstage transitioned between sets, Sam Robbins brought his soft brand of acoustic folk to the venue’s second stage in singer/songwriter fashion. With gentle strumming and fingerpicking coupled with an airy vocal quality akin to Ed Sheeran meeting Michael Buble, he mused on love and heartache, his relationship with his father, and growing older. Accompanied by a female vocalist/rhythm guitarist in his second intermission set, Robbins displayed an affinity for vocal harmonies to coincide with her sweet melodies and also showcased acoustic lead fills a la Taylor Goldsmith of the band Dawes. Whereas I look forward to seeing The Suitcase Junket again some time in the near future, it would seem that I’ll be waiting a bit longer if I hope to see Robbins perform again. He mentioned during the set that he would be moving to Nashville on 9/16. Now that I have seen him, though, it will be exciting to follow what is hopefully only the start of his career.

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The Reconstructed were next up on the mainstage consisting of a lineup that featured Martin England on guitar and lead vocals; Courtney Brocks on keys, acoustic guitar, and vocals; Jesse Dold on lead guitar and vocals; Sean Daniels on drums and Andre Russell on bass and vocals. Staggered at times for a triumphant cumulative effect, the four-part harmonies and restrained lead vocals were reminiscent of Cincinnati indie-rock outfit The National. The guitar work relied most heavily on riffing, strummed (as opposed to deliberately picked) leads and ambient effects rather than dedicated solos in a Jeff Buckley-type fashion. The overall instrumentation, however, leaned more toward soft 90s alternative along the lines of Train and Coldplay, with the keyboard effects drawing the comparison to the latter. With much of their set sounding like a long-trip, night-driving soft alternative rock playlist with steadily pounding bass lines, the spacey cover of “Rocket Man” toward the end of their set was an unexpected twist into slight psychedelic rock. I’ll definitely have to keep these guys in mind the next time I find myself trekking to or back from New Jersey late at night.

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Acting as festival headliner, The Mallett Brothers Band came down from the great state of Maine to get a decent amount of the crowd on its feet, concluding a great day of music and social activism in hunger awareness and prevention. Consisting of Luke Mallett on guitar and vocals, Will Mallett on guitar and vocals, Wally Wenzel on electric guitar, dobro and vocals, Nick Leen on bass, Andrew Martelle on electric guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and vocals, and Brian Higgins on drums, they played most heavily off of 2018’s Vive l’Acadie!. Ranging from softer ballads like “Too Much Trouble” to country rockers like “Long Black Braid” that featured the fiddle in force, strong gritty vocals and three- to four-part harmonies were a constant. Gravelly blues numbers like “Tip Up” brought a distinct Maine element to their sound, or more specifically their lyrics, as it described drinking as a strategy to keep warm while ice fishing. Wenzel’s lead sensibilities on slide guitar were also perfectly placed, tastefully adding to the overall composition while not trying to do too much. Singing with a slight twang, The Mallet Brothers reminded me that “the country” is not a region that is specific to the South. No, the country can be anywhere that is separate from the city and where you cannot see your nearest neighbor from your own front door. Maybe it’s that the lyrics don’t fall into the same tropes that modern country seems to, hell I’ve heard a lot of tacky songs about drinking but none about taking shots on a frozen lake. With that considered, the essence of The Mallett Brothers’ shows signs of country while maintaining a certain distance from it. Showcasing jam-heavy inclinations, they even unleashed a cover of “All Along the Watchtower” that fell somewhere between Hendrix’s well-known rendition and the instrumentation of The Dave Matthews Band. Call it retaining their artistic individuality, call it disregarding genre norms and classifications. Call it what you want, but I’m calling it North country blues rock. Just like they sang on “Timberline”, I hope that they’ll be “coming around again” soon.

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