Photos and review by Caleb Hsu
In the years since Karmin’s release of their breakout cover video of Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” back in April of 2011, the duo has made quite the international buzz. Garnering worldwide recognition through multi-platinum singles and Billboard #1 listings, Berklee graduates Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan of Karmin have exemplified the potential for stardom to be born behind a webcam. The two are not alone in owing their commercial success in large part to the global audience YouTube provides—Justin Bieber, Psy, Soulja Boy, and Cody Simpson all followed similar paths.
Due to the way money is allocated between original songwriters and later performers, it’s nearly impossible to make a sufficient living exclusively covering songs. Consequently, soon after their initial cover video went viral, the world was quickly introduced to Karmin’s original material. It was this transformative entrepreneurial process that created the Karmin we have all come to know and love. I recently had the privilege of attending the 2014 Pulses tour stop at Paradise Rock Club. Seeing two musicians – who have walked the same hallways and sat in the classrooms as you – deliver an accessible show in a sold-out venue in their hometown makes for a special night.
Berklee graduate Bryce Vine opened the show, bringing West Coast energy and urban-contemporary flare to the full house floor. The set was undoubtedly successful as an opener, and could have just as easily been ideal as a standalone performance. When you have audience members and brand new fans alike singing along with your verses three minutes after your stage entrance—you’ve got something worth paying attention to.
Once the energy dissipated, the lights dimmed and the speaker drivers cooled off from vigorously pounding out low-end rumbles, it was clear that Karmanites (i.e. superfans, coined by Amy for all you non-fans) were primed and ready for the main event of the night. As expected, Karmin brought all of the elements fans associate with the personas they’ve developed: a quirky and interactive stage presence, unusual instruments (e.g. Nick’s infamous trombone), and of course, Amy’s when-does-she-ever-even-breathe rapping chops. What I didn’t expect was a more intimate and transparent side of the combo. Seemingly out of left field, the two performed a soft ballad, which explored the ups and downs (pulses) brought about from the intense stresses of life, and the pressures from label troubles as Nick confessed. The song was a beautiful representation of staying true to yourself, sticking through the challenging and difficult to make it to the other side.
“There’s definitely a lot more depth, which is something we’ve always felt we wanted to do.”
“We want to call it Pulses because it’s kind of like the honeymoon is over now,” Nick mentioned. “There’s good and bad. It’s not necessarily all happy-go-lucky tracks. There’s also some more serious stuff. There’s definitely a lot more depth, which is something we’ve always felt we wanted to do.”
Karmin is a band that holds onto their stylistic decisions and remains following their unique musical direction. They know who they are, why they do what they do, what they want to sound like, and refuse to budge, regardless of external influences. One of my favorite additional aspects of watching Karmin live is seeing the uncontrived chemistry between Nick and Amy. Though the two are happily engaged, you sense an unmistakable bond that transcends stage personas or musical compatibility. Karmin brought the kind of real, raw, and relatable passion that can’t be fabricated.
The two continued with a wonderfully adapted version of “Walking on the Moon,” complete with a down-tempo, vibrato-infused a cappella intro. The song, off Hello, is a cheerful and bright pop love ballad that brings just enough unique flavor from Karmin’s unquantifiable signature. I was particularly impressed (and slightly confused) by the white-haired man and his lover dancing next to me, lip syncing every lyric of every pre-chorus, verse, and bridge. My favorite moment of the night was when Amy pulled a boy from the audience on stage to join her in the very song that kickstarted Karmin’s career. The gesture only enhanced the image of personability and charming warmth that you can expect to experience with musicians who are simply genuine people first.
“Try Me On,” from the new Pulses album set to release later this year, brought a more intricate musical side of Karmin I hadn’t heard before with playful rhythms and half-time break down sections, all backed by their new band. The new album feels like it’s going to take you on a journey, bringing a totally new side to the Karmin who’s already caused global chatter. Staying fresh and exciting is the only way artists stay relevant, and Karmin does just that in an innovative and unpretentious way. My takeaway from the night—go see the band live (making their way over to the West Coast) and keep and eye out for Pulses.