When: Friday, October 9
Where: Q Cafe
By the time Noah Gundersen took the Q Cafe stage after 10 p.m. Friday night, the one-room coffee shop was so full that people were standing outside near the windows, hoping to hear the sold-out show. The crowd indoors could hardly wait for Gundersen and his band to start performing: they clapped along as the band warmed up, yelling for more. When the set finally started, and Gundersen played the opening guitar line to "Caroline" on the newly-released Saints and Liars EP, his fans roared and immediately began clapping in time to the song's rollicking beat.
Given Gundersen's immense talent--his voice is pitch perfect and warm but still able to wail with angst--there were a few moments where it seemed like his backing band, known as the Courage, overpowered him. He had as many as five other musicians on stage with him at the Q Cafe, and--during the early songs of his set--the instrumentation felt heavy-handed. It seemed liked Gundersen's guitar and his sister Abby's violin and backing vocals would have been enough to translate the power of this songs.But when the band started playing the lilting, subdued "The Ocean," the musicians started working with the songs rather than against them. The performance finally clicked: Gundersen also performed a brand new song, and there was this awe-inspiring moment when both violinists played double stops and Noah pounded his guitar. It felt like the first Bright Eyes tour after the release of Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground: this is how a young, gifted singer-songwriter makes a band work.
And from that point on, it became clear why Gundersen plays with the Courage, rather than going solo: the full band brings people to their feet and gives his music an alt-country tinge. And people connect to that sound in a totally different way than they do to Gundersen's folkier, quieter songs. (Think about Ryan Adams: Like Gundersen, he writes beautiful, heartbreaking lyrics, but it's the backing instrumentation on "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" that gets people dancing.)
Toward the end of Gundersen's set, someone from the crowd called out, "From this point out, there will be no one sitting down," referring to rows of thearte-like chairs at the Q Cafe. Everyone rose to their feet as Gundersen played Moss on a Rolling Stone, singing along to the chorus. By the time the band started "Oh Momma," fans were on the stage, dancing behind Gundersen as he played. And this is the power of Gundersen's fans: they truly understand the 20-year-old musician performing in front of them, and they are uninhibited in their support. That's just as powerful as any song Gundersen would write.