by Robin Owens
Even before Gabe Dixon started singing, I was sold on him. Maybe it was the myriad of people in attendance who saw me with my notebook, asked if I was there for a newspaper, and, when I said I was, started telling me how amazing both of them were. The crowd was pretty evenly split between the two acts, which was promising to hear. But maybe what sold me was the way he captured the crowd from the moment he took the stage. While both these things certainly didn’t hurt, what really got me was how he said he was excited to play the Red Room “especially because [he had] a real piano.”
From the first piano note he played to the last note he sang of his opening number, he had the audience in the palm of his hand. His hands moved across the keys with dexterity and familiarity, and his voice rang out with an honest and heartbreaking tone. Singing came easy for him, which opened him up to focus on the meaning and performance— not that he was worrying about putting on a show. Dixon’s appeal wasn’t in his ability to affect the audience but rather the fact that he could do it without directly acknowledging us. He got swept up in the songs, and we couldn’t help but tag along for the ride.
Where his first song “Holding Her Freedom” was reminiscent of Billy Joel’s piano prowess, “Crave” was a quick switch to what reminded me more of a contemporary country track. Perhaps this was his Nashville roots coming out? No one sang along, but I doubt it was a lack of knowing the words; no one wanted to sing over his angelic voice, or miss one of those gorgeous moments when he switched to falsetto. I wasn’t prepared to hear possibly the most perfect love song next, but that’s what I found as he transitioned into “If I Love You.” What caught me was the first few lines: I don’t have the words to say / I don’t know if they’ve been made” and if that isn’t a perfect and relatable sentiment I have not business pursuing songwriting.
At the risk of downplaying Dixon’s talent, I must say his songwriting style reminded me of both Vance Joy and Ed Sheeran , at least when performed live with just his voice and a piano. He mentioned before his next song that this last record he put out, Turns to Gold, was his first indie release.
Overall it was clear that he’s crazy talented. The piano parts were absolutely beautiful and worked flawlessly with the vocal lines he wrote over them. In addition, when he played guitar throughout the set he added a bass drum kick using a mic on the ground. His stage presence during songs was captivating, but in between songs when he did talk he was conversational and funny. As he launched into “Last Fool” he described it as “[a song he] wrote when [he] was in college and got [his] heart stepped on and thrown into the river.” He performed with the ease of a seasoned performer, but with the enthusiasm of someone just starting out.
When David Ryan Harris took over, I didn’t know how he was going to hold his own. The duo admitted to flipping a coin every night to decide who would take the stage first, because neither of them wanted to follow the other. The two were clearly close, as evidenced by Harris joking the third song of his set “[was] called ‘I Want to Break Gabe Dixon’s Fingers’— or ‘Pretty Girl’. One of the two.” The main differences between the two was their main instruments, and their interaction with the audience. While Gabe Dixon allowed the music to speak for itself for the most part, David Ryan Harris was more talkative. He also was a more playful performer right from the start, mixing in famous lines from famous songs to add humor.
That’s not to say he wasn’t crazy talented too, just in a different way. He utilized the unique benefits of guitar, like looping, at just the right times, and improvised lyrically to add just another layer of fun to the performance. On the fourth song he let an audience member pick a song, one of his own called “Turaround” that he described as a song about letting a girl go because you love her, then joking that“by let her go I mean let them have a 50 foot head start before I run him over with my car”. The second song someone requested led to the person who did so jumping up on stage at Harris’ request to describe why he wanted to hear that song, only to lead to him proposing! Harris sang the song, the perfect song to get proposed with, and it all felt a little bit magical.
If there’s only one song you look up by David Ryan Harris, it should be “Coldplay”. It’s a new song he hasn’t released yet but there’s a video of him doing it live on Youtube and it’s absolutely amazing. I’d have to say this is his catchiest song, and probably his best song. The epitome of his performance (other than “Coldplay”) was his finale, a song called “Good Thing” that he had the audience help out with. We sang the chorus, “We had a good thing, don’t get me wrong,” and it was really smart of Harris to put it last because it’s been stuck in my head ever since.
It’s impossible to pick a favorite between the two. What struck me most was that both had mastered the art of performing each song like it was the first time. This is an important skill for a performer to have; every song should sound as magical as the first time they played it because for someone in the audience it’s the first time they’ve heard it. I hadn’t heard of either of these guys before I went to the show, but I’ve been listening to their music on repeat ever since.
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