Mason Jennings/Lily Kershaw at House of Blues, 1/26/14
Photos by Nicholas Zalud
Mason Jennings with Lily Kershaw House of Blues, Bronze Peacock Room 1.26.14
House of Blues' Bronze Peacock Room was the perfect intimate setting for Mason Jennings' stellar showcase of songs on Sunday night. Ranging from his vast catalog of music, Jennings came to perform for his fans' sake, and that he did.
Opener Lily Kershaw isn't exactly a household name, unless maybe you are an avid fan of the CBS show Criminal Minds (apparently Kershaw had two songs on the season finale this year). That being said, she certainly is naturally talented. Her voice is reminiscent of Jewel but slightly warmer. It is to be seen if there is anything discernably different about Kershaw than the 1000 other talented songstresses that release music each year in the hopes of success, but her music is pretty and non-irritating or cheesy. Maybe that is the difference.
After Kershaw's appropriately timed 45-minute set and an intermission, Mason Jennings took the stage. Jennings opened by saying, "Thanks for being so warm, Houston. I'm from Minnesota." A Houston transplant from Chicago and Minneapolis myself, I understand what he means. Nonetheless, this winter has absolutely sucked for Texans, and I'm glad for Houstonians sake that we have music like Mason's to keep us warm.
Jennings is able to weave the poetry of fellow Minnesotan Bob Dylan with the sunny, mellow effortlessness of Jack Johnson to create something completely original and unique. He's an American storyteller through and through in a way that is simply difficult to find nowadays.
Opening with "Rainboots," a cute song from his newest album Always Been, Mason put the crowd in the mood to have a good time. This continued with "Your New Man," a funny fan favorite from 2008's In The Ever that elicited laughter from the small audience.
The venue was not packed by any means, but the crowd there definitely felt connected to the artist. As they laughed along with his clever lyrics, they felt like they were in on the joke. On stage, it was just Mason, his guitar and piano, his music, and his stories. Nothing else was needed.
For me personally, I never thought I would be able to see Jennings in this intimate a setting. I've seen him countless times in Minnesota (several at the iconic First Avenue, where he recorded a stellar live disc at a show I just happened to attend in 2009), among several other venues. To see him a stone's throw away was nothing short of remarkable.
"California" was next off his self-titled debut (which brought him a plethora of accolades upon its release in 1997), followed by the gorgeous and illuminating "Darkness Between the Fireflies," a song about not letting the past haunt new love. Having adored these songs since I used to put them on mixtapes, I was pleased to see the whole crowd singing along to my Minnesota man.
One of the problems of massive success is that it can bring along massive asshole fans. Before I moved away from Minneapolis, Mason was huge there, and therefore his shows were often rife with bro-ey douchebaggery. I am happy to report that none of this was present Sunday night. If you came to rock out with your cock out, this was not the show for you. And I would like to personally thank you for staying home.
"Ulysses" came next, followed by "Duluth," which was super-stripped down with Mason drumming on his acoustic. "The Light (Part 2)" came on next, a heart-wrenching song that has the power to bring tears to your eyes in a public venue. "Which Way Your Heart Will Go" followed, and then "Be Here Now," one of the most beautiful and inspiring Jennings songs ever. The crowd loved this and sang along to every word.
When it comes to Jennings, the bottom line is that you can't bullshit talent. Being that close to him, it is evident he possesses it in every sense: he's a great guitarist, pianist, songwriter, and singer. Most impressively, he has passion for what he does. He's also a great storyteller between songs and makes the audience feel connected with his work on a level that other performers cannot do as organically.
A few more songs played before "Wilderness," the single release off his newest album that is reminiscent of earlier Jennings, and then came "The Field," a song written about veterans of war from a very different point of view. Unlike the Toby Keith kind of bullshit usually associated with music about the military, Mason is amazing at articulating ideas into palpable feelings. This is true of all his songs, whether they are funny, happy, heartbreaking, or inspiring.
Mason left the stage for literally 15 seconds while the small crowd let out a huge roar for more music. Jennings returned immediately and simply said, "Okay, what do you want to hear?" "Fighter Girl" was chosen, followed by classic "Nothing," and lastly, "Adrian."
It was clear to me that the only people at this show were people that truly loved Mason Jennings. I realize for artists that this would not be particularly lucrative, but as a fan, it certainly was a special evening.
Personal Bias: This entire review could easily have been about how Mason's lyrics directly coincide with my life, in an easy-to-reference chronological order. But no one wants to read that, because this is a music blog, not a "Love and Relationships" blog. The point is that his lyrics are extremely poignant and relatable.
The Crowd: A small group of highly-dedicated Mason fans, many of whom wearing flannel. There aren't that many hipsters in Houston by comparison's sake, but Mason managed to bring some granolas out of the woodwork.
Overseen in the Crowd: Why are dudes still wearing those 1980's-looking fishing shirts? Especially when they aren't fishing?
Random Notebook Dump: Thanks to cute couple Mallory and Jeremy for sharing their stolen posters. These two LOVE Mason Jennings.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.