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Man, so here's the thing: I love live music. I don't just mean that I really like going to see bands at a club or concert venue. I mean that I am literally in love with the rush that comes with experiencing a live music performance. Sure, there are things I love more, like my kids and my wife, but ever since Joan Jett blew my 12-year-old mind at my first concert, I've been chasing that rush in much the same way a drug addict tries to surpass that first high. Fortunately, unlike chasing the dragon, it is possible to surpass your first concert experience, even one as awesome as mine. That's the great thing about live music. To borrow from the wit and wisdom of the literary and cinematic character Forrest Gump, live music is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.
This past weekend I witnessed a show that absolutely blew me away. Going into it, I knew it was going to be quality for a couple of reasons. First, the folks at Awendaw Green were organizing it. For those of you still not familiar with the local music juggernaut that is Awendaw Green, I implore you to head up to the SeWee Outpost in Awendaw on Highway 17 North one Wednesday night and see what those folks have going on. Either that, or catch one of the shows they put on at the Circular Congregational Church downtown on Meeting Street. That's where the action was this past Saturday night. The second reason I was excited for this show was because the local band Slow Runner was headlining. I could go into the multiple reasons I dig Slow Runner, but what it basically boils down to is that the band—led by musical geniuses Michael Flynn and Josh Kaler—just doesn't sound like anything else out there. Is it a rock band with synthesizers? An electronica act with heavy leanings toward non-electronic instruments? A band that seems to play nothing but cool, dreamy songs that sound like they belong in a movie based on a video game inspired by some avant garde novel? Yeah, actually Slow Runner is all that and more. I've been going to see Slow Runner since they were playing at the now defunct Cumberland's. The music made by Flynn and Kaler always sounds fresh and inspired, with a sort of otherworldly feel to most of the songs.
To be honest, I'm not going to do a typical concert review here, because even with my above-average descriptive skills, I couldn't properly recount the experience that I and about 250 or 300 other lucky souls experienced this past weekend. I will give you the basics though. First, the incredibly gifted Rachel Kate Gillon opened with an acoustic set of her original material that raised goosebumps on top of goosebumps. Standing in front of the stage, just feet away from the front row of church pews, with an acoustic guitar and no microphone, Gillon used the unique acoustics of the Circular Congregational Church to her advantage, looking up toward the choir loft as she projected her mesmerizingly powerful voice toward whatever higher power was ready to receive it. Gillon was accompanied by cellist Diego Villena, and the pair played a short set of haunting, yet lovely music that hovered around the area of country and folk without ever quite committing to either. I say that in a positive way, because if it were possible to capture the essence of Slow Runner in an acoustic act, Gillon's set Saturday night was as close as it was possible to get to that idea. As an encore Gillon borrowed a tambourine from Slow Runner's set-up and, after apparently running through the song in her head for a moment, let loose with a spiritual that sent a collective shiver through the audience.
When Slow Runner took to the stage a short while later, it was obvious the crowd was expecting a deeply emotional experience. They didn't count on the band getting sucked into the feel-good vibe as well, but late in the set, Flynn advised the crowd that, although they hadn't taken an official poll, this just might have been the band's favorite performance ever. In addition to the wonderful music bouncing off the church's domed ceiling, the folks at Awendaw Green had brought in a professional light rig, a fog machine, and lasers that drew geometric patterns on the walls and ceiling. It wasn't quite a Pink Floyd laser show from the 70s, but when the band kicked into one of their more danceable numbers, like "Make You Love Me" or "Happy Ending," the disco lights kicked in and the crowd was grooving. Slow Runner bassist Jonathan Gray, who never misses an opportunity to dance around his upright bass, was obviously having a great time up on the stage, feeding off the audience's energy.
Carrie Ann Hearst stepped onstage late in the set to sing "XXX," a song that she'd recently recorded with the band. It was very cool to hear another voice, especially one as distinct and lovely as Hearst's, mixing with Flynn's gentle vocals. By the end of the show, the goodwill was such that the band, which also included vibraphone player Ron Wiltrout, drummer Jack Burg, and trumpet player Clay White, was coaxed back out to play a couple more songs. Flynn took advantage of the venue's grand piano for a few songs, before returning to his electronic set-up on the stage. Standout moments came during songs such as "Love and Doubt," "Somebody to Smother," and "Mermaids." The performance of "The Stakes Were Raised," easily my favorite Slow Runner song, was sublime.
In much the same way that the recent holiday performance by the Charleston Jazz Orchestra satisfied my constant craving for great live music, so did this amazing show. I truly feel for you if you weren't there to experience it. The good news is that Slow Runner performs in Charleston once or twice a year, so if you did miss this show, you'll definitely get another chance next year. In the meantime, here's to live music, and especially here's to the musicians that strive to make their live performances anything but routine.
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