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Gretchen Witt
Living Room
March 31, 2007

Written by Eric Atienza
Photographed by Yosra El-Essawy




Swirling melodies 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 doorbell never rang,
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 day fantasies.

“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

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