March 31, 2007
Written by Eric Atienza
Photographed by Yosra El-Essawy
and vibrant yet poignant vocals permeated the Lower
East Side as Gretchen Witt and her suit-clad backing
band poured forty minutes of soul-cleansing sincerity
into the welcoming ears of Living Room listeners.
She was joined on stage by Ian Riggs on bass with
Chris Benelli on drums and Rich Hinman on guitar.
Witt opened the show with “Consequence”,
the first track on her recently released E.P. Six.
The song initially lulled those in attendance into
a false sense of security with a fun and easy guitar
riff and light rhythms, but any thoughts of a night
of simple, fluffy tunes were erased the minute Witt
opened her mouth. It was the quirkiest song Witt
played that night, accentuated by a vocal style
that intimated a wink, a smirk, and an invitation
to come out and play. She danced up and down scales
at will proceeding from one note to the next while
somehow hitting every single note in between.
Her next song, “I Was Certain,” was
the first of three newly written tunes of the night.
Witt’s voice became haunting and bittersweet;
reminiscent, bordering on melancholy but always
maintaining a certain underlying optimism. This
quality is pervasive throughout all of Witt’s
music, amplified ten-fold when she plays live and
it’s what makes her music personal and real
to everyone that is listening. Whether she is singing
a touching ballad about romance gone wrong, leading
the room in a round of “Happy Birthday”,
or explaining the perils of cooking spaghetti while
practicing music – if you are holding your
guitar when you crack the noodles some bits can
wind up inside the body – she evokes everything
that is human in all of us.
When playing “Soft Spot” she was contemplative
and yearning; her soft and lilting piano crafting
a melody that ebbed and flowed like soft waves lapping
the seashore. “Buried Alive” was a dark,
foreboding requiem that showcased the depth and
soul in Witt’s voice recalling angst, indecision
and fear of the unknown while the waltz-like “Lovers
Look the Other Way” heard her donning a vulnerable
vibrato and with a slightly trembling voice weaving
a sad tale of heartache and loss.
Dealing with anything Gretchen Witt, be it her E.P.,
her live show or even her Myspace page, the high
point for me is always the song “Sunday Night”.
No matter what comes before and what comes after,
that song always steals the show and this night
was no different. Witt sings with a tired resignation
and this country-tinged elegy weaves a story that
is one part real life one part fairy tale:
the scenery hasn’t changed,
fairy godmother never came,
Cinderella’s just the same.
Once upon a time is not a state of mind,
happy ever after is not the final chapter.
Two more new songs
quickly followed, the first of which was titled
“Sun on my Back.” Written fresh on the
heels of Witt’s return from the South by Southwest
music festival, Witt described it as, “The
slowest song we’ve played yet.” The
song certainly has a stronger country twang than
Witt’s others though the “slowness”
is masked by the artful sweetness of the music.
The only hitch in the whole set came during the
bridge of this song, though Witt and Co. quickly
recovered and Witt ended the song singing perhaps
the saddest, most evocative note of the entire night.
“You, Now” was the last of the new material
revealed blending folk-rock rhythms with the cadence
of an Irish ballad. It contained a comfortable warmth,
bringing to mind both picturesque settings and everyday
“Call it a Day” finished the set with
airy, toe-tapping rhythms and Witt’s voice
once again adopted the flute-like light-heartedness
of her first song. It was as if, after taking us
through a dream world she created and plumbing the
depths of human emotion she just smiled, told us
to open our eyes and chided us for taking life so
seriously. As she’d done all night, even in
the most desperate moments of her music, she gave
us the promise of hope and happiness. And, as we
had done with everything she offered us, we graciously
and gratefully accepted it.
For more information
about Gretchen Witt, log onto: gretchenwitt.com