Pardon my language as there may be some extended glowing due to this show being the first one back at First Avenue for me. Also long overdue is seeing Anderson East and Savannah Conley, both artists that I’ve discovered while they opened for other favorites of mine. East, an Alabama native, is hot off his release Maybe We Never Die and Conley, a Nashville native, recently released an EP Surprise, Surprise.
Anderson East treads a clever line between throwback rock and roll, R&B, and soul that resides in the Americana genre. His gravelly voice hearkens to moody moments and introspective folk. There’s a distinct influence from his gospel upbringing, but this suave confidence that progresses his sound. If you had to place it, imagine Jason Isbell riding with Nathaniel Rateliff in Leon Bridges’ car.
Producer Dave Cobb has described Conley as a “Southern Mazzy Star”, which should give you a launching point of her sound. Starting with “Don’t Take Me Home” accompanied by a keyboard, Conley leaned into her set. We then entered the sad portion of the set with “All I Wanted” an older gem that still holds up and brought the audience into a hush.
Conley’s cover of “Do I Wanna Know” (Artic Monkeys) signified the anger portion of the set. Following with a newer song that talks about how we’re supposed to know when someone changes their mind, Conley tapped into a moment. Ending with “Being Around You” with harmony vocals and keys, she hit her stride with an excellent performance on a catchy song.
I’m hoping 2022 becomes a breakout year for Savannah Conley. Her 2021 release Surprise, Surprise is definitely a beautiful leap in the right direction.
Opening with “Devil in Me” places us in a Sunday church after a Saturday night. Poignant to open the show with, the song also hits home as being on the Delilah album (2015), the tour I discovered him on. The stage surrounded with his 6 piece band, a horn section tucked in the back, there was a clear patch of open stage for East to move around. Throughout the night this orb of space saw East dancing and pacing around, paying admiration to his backing band.
“Madeline” was an instant crowd favorite. East’s voice is a soother and igniter at the same time. His ability to pull you back into the past to hear Motown and R&B blended together, with the frosting of a tight band behind him, is a winning combination. Using the entire stage, East would come to the lip of the stage and lean towards the crowd, drawing them in.
“Hood Of My Car” had this slap-back drum part that transported you back to the 80’s. A song about savoring a moment and taking advantage of your settings, East strode back and forth, soaking in the song and performance. It stands out as the stage came alive with his lighting pillars and while light that spilled into the crowd.
Immediately after “Drugs” burst in with a bass-driven disco groove, igniting the audience into a dance. East stays in a silky falsetto for most of the song. Pondering the increasingly difficult circumstances of reality, the chorus encapsulates where we’re at.
“Is it me? Just me?
Or is everybody on drugs?
Everybody’s on drugs
‘Cause the world behind our eyes is better in disguise
So we try to keep the feelings numb
Everybody’s on drugs”
Getting an extended jam with the band, where the keys and guitar played back and forth need to be recorded for an alternate version. It was entertaining to watch that buildup.
“Girlfriend” followed a bit of that formula for a longer jam portion that had the audience clapping along. “Falling” saw the weight of the horns in this wall of sound moment. Blasting from the back, it was the loudest song of the set that had you holding the rails to stay in place.
Anderson East bleeds soul. His presence on stage and talent to lean into the lyrics makes for something you just can’t turn away. Walking around First Avenue, there were pockets of people slow dancing, jumping around, and some steel-eyed glued to the production on stage. Hearing a band of this size in a venue as great sounding as First Avenue makes for some special moments.
Photo by SmouseUsing the encore for “Heaven Help Us All“, a cover by Stevie Wonder, also hits just right. Another brilliant choice and words we need to hear in today’s environment, especially for a city still healing from our social justice wounds.
“Heaven help the black man if he struggles one more day,
Heaven help the white man if he turns his back away,
Heaven help the man who kicks the man who has to crawl,
Heaven help us all.”
To say live music is catharsis is an understatement. There’s an indescribable spirit from gathering and listening to voices from all over our country, hearing their stories and perspectives. Anderson East and Savannah Conley provided a sermon of strength and drugs for Minneapolis last night.