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Possessed by Paul James enthralls the Hook and Ladder

Possessed by Paul James
Photo: David Spigolon

Live Music, at its best, is nothing if not a highly emotional experience. This is true almost by definition.

The most memorable concerts are the ones that resonate with you deeply on a level beyond a simple fun night out, whether that be because of your response to the artist or the music itself, or because of something less tangible that connects you to the experience. The best artists and performers are able to connect with their audiences in both of those ways on levels their average peers simply cannot.

Konrad Wert belongs firmly in the former category. Wert, who performs under the moniker “Possessed by Paul James,” brought his inspiring, multi-instrumental one-man folk act to the Hook and Ladder on Friday night.

 

Possessed by Paul James
Photo: David Spigolon.

The set embodied the multitude of ways Wert connects to his audience and how well Wert utilizes the various tools he has at his disposal to make those connections. Among the strongest of those tools was his storytelling.

Between songs, and inside of the songs themselves, Wert used storytelling to share his unique worldview, one that is empathetic, grounded and shaped by his unique perspective as a longtime schoolteacher. Through that lens, Wert’s stories and music wove through themes of life, family, and struggle.

Whether being delivered with a sense of humor, or a tender heart, these stories and songs conveyed a degree of humanity to Wert’s set that is rare amongst any performing artist. Fans of many genres hold ideals about “authenticity” and what constitutes it, but Wert exudes a raw emotional energy that can only be described as just that.

Contributing to that significantly were his vocals. Wert alluded to the music of Tina Turner at one point (even mentioning that he had thought about wearing her shirt onstage at the gig), and the influence of soul music was very apparent in both his vocal delivery and the passion that he sang with.

Combined with his high-energy instrumental work (whether that be on banjo, guitar, or fiddle) and the physicality of his movements, Wert was as far from the “sad folk singer” stereotype as one could possibly be.

Joy, struggle, and catharsis were present throughout, often commingling, with each taking center stage at different points.

By the end of the show (at which point Wert was busy converting any remaining holdouts by singing a capella renditions of gospel songs), it was vividly apparent why Possesed by Paul James fans are so devoted. With a performance imbued with the elusive quality of authenticity, Wert made real, deep connections with his audience

Written by Aaron Williams

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