The rush of live music

Myself, left, with Cupcakes, center, and Hank.

I realized pretty early on that I’m a big fan of live music.  I got to attend some concerts as a middle and high schooler that was a big thrill for me.  Not every one was a winner – at one show I saw in college, Vanessa Carlton started talking about armpit hair for an uncomfortable amount of time – but overall, live music was definitely a draw for me.

To date, the performer I’ve seen live most often is Andrew McMahon, first with Something Corporate (my byline’s not on them, but I wrote the piece linked before, as well as a piece on this show from Toad’s Place where I was able to get myself and my then-girlfriend backstage for an interview) and later with Jack’s Mannequin.  At the last Jack’s Mannequin show, we saw Company of Thieves, a great live act.

At CoT show, I was introduced to Hank & Cupcakes (pictured above, with me), who I’ve also written about. They’re now rivaling McMahon as the live act I seek out most often. If you haven’t been introduced yet, you’re missing out.

Their latest video, Sweet Potion, is a visual delight, mixing amusing clips from old ads with well-inserted shots of the Brooklyn-based duo.  The song, a perfect example of why they’re so awesome, pulls together the strengths of Hank, a bass player that has a set of effects (they call it the “sampler” on stage) that fill the sound out, and Cupcakes who drives the drums with energy and force while handling vocal duties with her incredible singing voice.  She’s got her own effects, in the form of well-placed vocal doubling where needed to enhance the choruses.

This technical wizardry works well on audio, but it’s when performing live that the endless energy the pair have come out to play.  I got to see them for the third time last night at the Arch Street Tavern in Hartford.  The two of them get right into the music. During a given song, you might catch Cupcakes stare intensely into Hank’s eyes, swing around the drums to sing in front of the audience, get right into Hank’s face as he plays (lovingly, of course!) or to keep the drum beats going from the outside of the semi-circle that she’s traditionally inside.

The music is largely upbeat and catchy, such as “Hit,” seen above, with a couple of beautiful ballads, like “Tame the Fool,” seen below, added in for good measure.  They’re also very friendly; I’ve had a chance to chat with them a bit at each of the shows, and they’re a lot of fun offstage too.

They’re so much fun live, and it’s always worth it to make the trek to where they’re performing to see them.  They play regularly in both New York and Connecticut (they’re playing tonight, as I write this, at Mercury Lounge in New York City, a common venue for them) and are worth every penny.  You can also grab some of their music on iTunes and Amazon, like the recently-released “Ain’t No Love” EP.  They were recently signed, so it’s only a matter of time before you’ll see more from them.  But in the meantime, to actually “see” more of them, check out their videos on YouTube, as well as the plethora of live uploads from fans.

Me, left, and my partner, Chris, right, with Chenot of Mission Zero

Arch Street gave me a chance to see another duo that I’ve seen perform live in Hamden before (coincidentally with Hank and Cupcakes as well), Mission Zero.  Last time out, drummer David Keith was touring with Blackmore’s Night, so I saw him perform with sister Chenot for the first time last night.

The minimalism that some of their music has really highlights Chenot’s amazing vocals and David’s talented drumming, such as “Heavy Boots,” seen above. The tunes are well-written and performed by the duo, and the recordings are great, but like Hank & Cupcakes you’re missing out if you don’t see them perform live as well.

The upbeat tracks are simple, catchy and straightforward, allowing Chenot to sing the hell out of them, and David’s support on vocals and drums fills out the sound nicely.  Some additional outside elements, added in via the help of a trusty Macbook, fills in gaps that the duo can’t accomplish on their own, and helps to bring the live performances more in line with the record.

They do well on slower numbers too; I particularly love the song “Disappear” (seen below), sung sweetly by Chenot, and with a pretty awesome video paired to boot. We had a chance to chat with Chenot a bit after her performance, and she’s incredibly kind.  I haven’t written about Mission Zero for my normal media outlets, but I’m looking forward to spreading the word about Mission Zero as well!

If you can’t get enough of Chenot, you’ll love the mix of live music, videos and covers recorded on Mission Zero’s YouTube channel, which will keep you busy for awhile.

It was great to see both acts again; last time I saw them was on my 30th birthday, which was a hell of a way to celebrate.  Seeing them in such a beautiful venue as Arch Street Tavern, with an appreciative audience, was a lot of fun, and I hope to see both duos again live really soon!

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