Despite the winter freeze, this town is a hotbed of live music. I caught So Last Year on Thursday night at the Bug Jar not knowing what to expect other than that several of the band's tunes piqued my interest. Buffalo-based folk-pop outfit Darling Harbor was performing when I got there and the quartet sounded completely slick. Lead singer Ben Uytiepo's voice had a clear theatrical quality that blended nicely with the band's upbeat direction.
So Last Year followed, and front man Logan Van Epps set up shop on the floor while the rest of the group spread out on the stage. If there is anything Van Epps knows how to do, it's how to work a room; his banter put the quintet on good footing with the well-attended crowd. So Last Year's set was short but sweet and the band created a wall of thunder. The highlight of the evening though was a quieter acoustic tune, "Hold Onto Me," that got nearly everyone in the house singing along with the chorus.
I couldn't miss Lee Brice's "Life Off My Years" tour at Blue Cross arena on Friday. Opening act Maddie and Tae kicked things off. The duo was backed by four of Nashville's finest who provided a solid foundation for the young starlets as they mixed equal amounts of country pride and girl power. At one point, one of the gals uttered a line, "Hey Rochester, since we are near a lake, do you like to fish?" That launched into "Shut Up And Fish," one of the evening's barnburners. Maddie and Tae's band concluded the set by flexing some muscle of its own with a few seconds of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."
When Lee Brice hit the stage, he stayed in back with his group for a bit before heading out toward the front, and the house gave him a warm reception once he did. Part of Brice's appeal is that he is a good ol' boy with a penchant for writing thoughtful ballads. Brice is a likeable guy -- he gave away his acoustic guitar to a star struck fan at the show. And when a woman jumped up onstage, he hugged her before she was escorted away by security.
Brice's most impressive guitar solo came before the night's best gag when he finished his riff and opened the door of a Marshall amp to reveal a cooler full of beer. That led into cracking open a cold one, and of course, "Beer" a tune from his album "Hard 2 Love." Other favorites, including "Drinking Class," had folks roaring with approval. Toward the end when a piano was moved onto the center stage, Brice was left alone with the audience to perform his CMA song of the year "I Don't Dance." A montage of home movie footage of his wedding was projected on the big screen video monitor and it was time to call it an evening.
There must be a rule among musicians that says don't play on Super Bowl Sunday, so I checked out Saturday night's show at Café Veritas featuring Christine Lavin and Don White. At 64, New York City-based musician Christine Lavin is no stranger to football -- she was Rex Ryan's babysitter during a Joe Namath-era Jets training camp. At Café Veritas, she threw touchdowns during a captivating performance. Lavin breathed a beat into a loop station and began by doing an improvisational rap, which was probably the last thing you could imagine from someone who taught a Pete Seeger verse to Bob Dylan. Lavin did some napkin folding and baton twirling too but never strayed far from her folk roots with a style reminiscent, at times, of Laurie Anderson's spoken word monologues. Her partner, Don White was a funny storyteller at heart who sang occasional bittersweet tunes. When the pair shared the stage, they had the packed house on its feet for a Bruno Mars-inspired number before inviting the men of the audience to join them for closing tune, "Sensitive New Age Guys."