August 16, 2010

Adam Haworth Stephens is phenomenal live

Adam H Stephens 030

Five months ago, my friend Katie went to see Adam Haworth Stephens (of the San Francisco band Two Gallants) open for Rocky Votolato in Denver. I wasn’t at the show, but was on my computer later that night when an email popped in from her, raving about how amazing the opening act was. I could almost feel her glowing through the internet wires from excitement at this young man and his piercing music.

With her permission, I turned that email into a post about Adam. He’s been tearing up the touring circuit, wearing down the asphalt all across the US in the last few months, and last Thursday he finally came back through Denver, and I was there waiting with ready ears.

He was, in a word, phenomenally kinetic live. His well-crafted songs from an older acoustic EP sprouted muscles and all sorts of complex shading with the full band backing. The drummer was fantastic, and I pounded my hand against my thigh for almost the whole set. Their badass female bassist threw down solid basslines to anchor the melodies, and Adam sang with howl and conviction. The songs were riveting.

My charming British friend Paul asked me after the set what I was going to write about the show, why I couldn’t stop smiling, why I loved it so much. I told him I felt like I was watching a special artist. NME wrote that Adam “shares the same spirit as a young, reckless Johnny Cash, or a pre-electric Bob Dylan.” To that I would add a most obvious comparison to a twenty-something Neil Young, and of course the youthful intelligence of Conor Oberst (whose Nebraska label Saddle Creek is releasing Adam’s debut solo album). Those are all lofty comparisons. I felt he merited them.

lbj-153You can download the first song off his new album We Live On Cliffs (out 9/28) for free on his website in exchange for an email address:

STREAM: The Cities That You’ve Burned

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

He announced at the end of his set, “I’m Adam Haworth Stephens, and, uh, we don’t have any music for sale tonight.” You could hear a groan ripple through the audience. If you’ve seen him live and were won over like we all were, perhaps this out-of-print Vile Affections EP can help tide you over until Sept 28th when the full-length is released. I’ve been listening to this EP a lot lately. If these songs show up on the debut album, it will be so interesting to see how they’ve filled out.

Lead In Our Lungs
The Heights of Diamond
Bitter Angel
The Miles We’ve Marched
Your Weight
Going To Germany
Twitch and Tremble in the Breeze (bonus)


I also hope the new album has this song is on it — it was one of my favorites live:

Second Mind (live at The Independent in SF) – Adam H. Stephens

Adam just announced a tour with The Felice Brothers (“Frankie’s Gun” is still a song of theirs I never ever tire of, and this duet with Conor Oberst makes me deeply happy), which is a superb pairing. I adore The Felice Brothers. GO SEE ONE OF THESE SHOWS.


*w/ Blitzen Trapper*
Aug 17 – Spaceland, Los Angeles, CA
Aug 18 – Crepe Place, Santa Cruz, CA

*Headlining show*
Oct 2 – The Independent, San Francisco, CA

*w/ The Felice Brothers*
Oct 5 – Doug Fir, Portland, OR
Oct 6 – Tractor, Seattle, WA
Oct 7 – Media Club, Vancouver, BC
Oct 9 – State Room, Salt Lake City, UT
Oct 10 – Larimer Lounge, Denver, CO
Oct 12 – Waiting Room, Omaha, NE
Oct 13 – Triple Rock, Minneapolis, MN
Oct 14 – Turner Hall, Milwaukee, WI
Oct 15 – Empty Bottle, Chicago, IL
Oct 16 – Magic Stick, Detroit, MI
Oct 18 – Mr. Smalls, Pittsburgh, PA
Oct 19 – 123 Pleasant Street, Morgantown, WV
Oct 21 – Capitol Theatre, York, PA
Oct 22 – Rock and Roll Hotel, Washington, DC
Oct 23 – Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia, PA
Oct 28 – Harper’s Ferry, Boston, MA
Oct 29 – Met Café, Providence, RI
Oct 30 – The Chance, Poughkeepsie, NY
Oct 31 – MHOW, Brooklyn, NY
Nov 1 – Daniel Street, Milford, CT
Nov 3 – Jefferson Theatre, Charlottesville, VA
Nov 4 – King’s Barcade, Raleigh, NC
Nov 5 – The Handlebar, Greenville, SC
Nov 6 – The Earl, Atlanta, GA
Nov 8 – The Social, Orlando, FL
Nov 9 – Club Downunder, Tallahassee, FL
Nov 10 – One Eyed Jack’s, New Orleans, LA
Nov 12 – Emo’s, Austin, TX
Nov 13 – The Loft, Dallas, TX
Nov 14 – Sticky Fingerz, Little Rock, AR
Nov 15 – Proud Larry’s, Oxford, MS
Nov 17 – Headliners, Louisville, KY
Nov 18 – Southgate House, Newport, KY
Nov 19 – The Rumba Café, Columbus, OH

[other photos from the concert last week are on the Fuel/Friends Facebook page]

April 11, 2010

We spend all night painting pictures that disappear when morning comes

adam h stephens

Tonight I am happy to share a bit of heartfelt enthusiasm that I received from my friend Katie, who DJs a marvelous Friday afternoon radio show at the college where I work. I have come to regard her as an eerily prescient musical twin, and I found her written narrative of a recent show she saw with Adam H. Stephens (of the San Francisco band Two Gallants) to be worth sharing.

Hers is unvarnished joy in great new music, and well — it sounds like I should take a listen. She says:

People ask me how I can have 15,000 songs in my iTunes and love so many musicians and still be able to pin down my favorite band, favorite album, and favorite song. My favorite song is on this aforementioned album by the very same band. Since the 10th grade (four years ago), I have held the conviction that “Jesus, Etc.” is my single favorite song that I’ve listened to in my life. I find other songs catchier, more lyrically intriguing, more musically intricate. The essence of the song, however, is completely indefinable. It is this sense of quality that Robert Pirsig spends two novels (Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila) hopelessly pursuing. That immeasurable but glaringly obvious sense that what you’re touching, seeing, hearing shows human artistic genius at its finest. In essence, art is a way we remind ourselves that we are human; we make art, therefore we alone are unique, and a song that gives me chills every time I hear it must embody this principle.

But I digress. I’m contemplating this today because yesterday, I saw a live performance that left me speechless. Adam H. Stephens opened for Rocky Votolato, and although I (as expected) enjoyed Rocky just as much as the first four times I saw him, the opener was the progenitor of those feelings of awe. Often, during an opener, I find myself feigning interest in the music in an effort to keep up my façade of being a concert snob while secretly wishing the band I paid for would just get on stage already. I can try to articulate exactly what made the Adam Stephens performance so incredible, but I’ll end up coming back to the same dilemma I have every time I hear Jesus, Etc. Technically, I loved how uncannily he sounded like Conor Oberst when he sang, comfort in the unknown territory of new lyrics and melodies. The bassist picked up the cello for the last song and she played it beautifully… The keyboards, barely discernible over Stephens’ technically impressive guitar playing added that essential layer of complexity and emotion to the songs. The drummer, like any lovable percussionist, bounced in his seat with unrestrained intensity. Yet none of this explains why I know that this music means something.

When I heard these songs, one after another striking me in a wholly new way, I felt, sincerely, just as I did when I listened to music like my first Radiohead or Wilco albums, that this music was why I was proud to be a part of this human race. Why I knew that if only some LPs could stick around, the aliens who inevitably stumble upon the remnants of our civilization might not think we were so worthless after all.

This all may sound ridiculous, but I know what I heard and more importantly, what I felt. I wish I could give you an mp3 and let you judge for yourself. But, in the silence after Adam introduced himself and his band (failing to mention his last name of course), I yelled out, “Adam, how do we get your music?” His coy reply, “Well, we don’t have any, but we do have t-shirts”. As an afterthought, he added, “We just recorded an album, but I guess until then,” while pointing at the stage, “this is how you get our music”.

I returned home, doubting the truth of this statement; who goes on tour without any released recordings? There had to be an EP. Despite all my best efforts, his statements proved true and all I could find were two lo-fi, acoustic demos on his myspace page – absent the complexity of his full band. I’m signed up for the email list, and until he finally releases music, I’m content to watch and re-watch youtube recordings of live songs.

All I can say is that if in three years I’m not saying, “Adam H. Stephens? Oh, I saw him before he even had an album, opening at the Hi-Dive for a $13 Rocky Votolato show,” all while waiting in line to see him play the sold-out Seattle Paramount — then, I have lost all faith in my musical instinct.

There is indeed precious little audio floating around from Adam to share with you, but he just went into Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles this past September and began recording his debut solo record with producer Joe Chiccarelli (My Morning Jacket, The Shins, White Stripes). Stay tuned.

And thanks, Katie, for making us listen.

[top photo credit April Votolato]

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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