by Dom Jones
The first day of midterms didn’t feel like the best time to be going to a concert, nonetheless, I was one of the few who decided to make the short trek to the Red Room for Olivia Swann’s headlining show. Having seen some of her Caf Show set a few days prior, I was curious how many students would show up for a repeat performance. Before she took the stage, though, there were a couple of opening bands who did short sets of their music.
The opener who stood out to me the most was named Jonny Glenn. Jonny’s persona was immediately recognizable as the aloof, brooding musician, and whether this was purposeful or not, it added needed theater to his bare stage setup. With just a second guitarist and a drummer, his sound still managed to fill the room up to capacity, though it was only half filled with concert goers. He sung his original songs, reminiscent of someone with an older spirit, and his passion for his own music was apparent. The highlight of the set was when Jonny launched into John Mayer’s hit song “Daughters,” bringing his own interpretation to the performance. He left the stage just as aloof as he entered, the audience only more familiar with him through his music. He barely spoke between songs, as though saving everything we’d get for the music. Check out his Facebook page to keep up with his work.
Olivia Swann took the stage without her background singers to give us the first tune with just guitar. It was a nice way to ease the crowd into the music. She would sing by herself intermittently throughout the night, as though to remind the audience that she was the headliner. These moments of paring down the music to just her and piano or just her and guitar made the bigger songs sound bigger and the simpler songs sound intimate, as though she was in her living room singing to friends. A standout original song was one about a destitute woman and empathizing with who she used to be. The writing used appropriate imagery, and took the listener into the room with the protagonist of the song, seeing her once glistening eyes and then moving through her struggle to her present day condition. This song particularly stood out from the various love songs that would dominate her set.
The background vocalists (Sarah Angelina Vela, Danny Garza, and Myranda Pagan) were a sensation. Intricately weaving their voices together, they were a band within the band, bringing delicate vocals to the performance. When they took center stage to sing their rendition of Jonathan’s Reynold’s “Why,” I was especially moved. They were so believable, evoking “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd during this song. The energy was palpable, with Sarah’s verse of the song bringing the intensity of the show up to one of it’s highest points of the night. When these vocalists were on stage, they elevated the music and the lead vocal with their musicianship, without taking away from the lead vocal. It takes so much control to do that, and I was impressed.
Olivia’s band also seemed to genuinely enjoy playing in the show. The most energetic song of the night was a cover of Kehlani’s “Gangsta,” where all of the band members had the opportunity to let loose, and Marshawn Fondren shone on the drums. Olivia addressed the crowd about how this performance was a milestone for her, as she’d always expressed a desire to headline a show at the Red Room. While she’s already established as one of the premier vocalists on campus, she seemed pleased to achieve this goal. Ultimately, Olivia’s run of shows in her final year at Berklee is a swan song of sorts, a final on-campus ascent before graduating into the larger pond that is “the industry.” The crowd seemed to be a dedicated band of fans who believe in her work and enjoy her stage performance, and hopefully that band of believers will continue to blossom beyond Berklee.
Check out Olivia’s latest single, “Unloosen Me” and Sound off in the Comments!