[Photo by Gareth Shute]
By Sarah Flynn
Over the course of three weeks in March, I found myself devoting my time to three very different settings with one man in common. Jason Anderson, Brooklyn singer-songwriter by way of New Hampshire, had a Thursday night residency at Union Hall, and I found myself there on the first night watching in awe. The following week, Thursday found me under the weather, but Friday shed new light on an opening slot at the Knitting Factory, and I was there to see it. The last week, back at cozy Union Hall, transfixed as ever.
I’d heard Jason Anderson in his various incarnations before – in his turn as Wolf Colonel, on his K Records solo albums, and I’d been certain that I’d seen him (I must have seen him) opening for other bands at other moments. Now, however, I’m not so sure; now I doubt that this is a show I’d have seen and forgotten. There are many things to say about these three shows, and the best way that I can find to explain them is in a list that encompasses them all. From the ears and the heart of one listener, I present you with Eight Reasons Why Jason Anderson Is Fucking Amazing.
1. Jason Anderson is not weird for the sake of being weird.
As independent music in New York gets more and more accessible, it often feels as though new and emerging artists feel hard pressed to be less and less so. Any freelance music writer gets a small handful of Jiffy envelopes delivered to his or her door each day, and more often than not there’s a record inside that tries to stand out by virtue of being filled with random noise, jarring notes, and/or general cacophony. You can accuse me of not getting it, and I will happily agree: Apes and Androids don’t do it for me, Brooklyn.
By contrast, Anderson’s new record, The Hopeful and the Unafraid, is nothing if not accessible. His live show is straight up rock and roll, magnified; it’s nostalgic for the era of the rock singer-songwriter without being cloyingly so. Rarely does one come across a Jason Anderson mention without a Springsteen reference, and it’s a well-deserved one.
2. Jason Anderson is not daunted by a change of setting.
Each of the March shows featured a strikingly different set of surroundings. The first night, second on a bill of three, surrounded by a warm crowd of friendly faces. The second, a sold-out show at the Knitting Factory opening for a slew of young and eager Tilly and the Wall fans. The final night was as the opener on a Thursday night bill, playing to a half-empty room. Anderson and his band did not just play in spite of the differences in crowd; they actually catered to them. Energy levels were raised and quieted according to the shifts in mood and the number of people shifting about; sing-alongs were encouraged. This, of course, brings me to #3.
3. Jason Anderson makes people uncomfortable.
The mere idea of engaging an indie rock crowd in an interactive show has always been a kind of “funny ha ha” idea, and yet every once in a while someone slips through the cracks and manages to accomplish this with stunning aplomb. On the final night of his Union Hall residency, Anderson and his band faced the inevitable eight o’clock weekday slump, wherein a half-full venue feels even less so because its inhabitants are all lounging in the back of the room.
As the show went on, Anderson encouraged fans to step up in a sort of musical evangelism the likes of which I’ve never seen. He stood at the edge of the stage until he was off of it, in the crowd, staring people in the eyes and imploring them to feel. “Aren’t we all here to have a good time?” Beside me stood a laid-back but reserved friend from New Zealand, who watched – and slowly backed towards the wall – as a wild-eyed Anderson asked for two steps forward, for his audience to sing the words, “Quit stop playing games around with my heart”, and for them to really be glad that they put ten dollars into an experience.
That kind of discomfort is what happens when mere listeners are called to action, and it shows that for better or for worse, he’s trying to evoke feeling in the room.
4. Jason Anderson knows how to choose the right set of musicians to accompany his work.
Anderson’s Union Hall shows and his Knitting Factory show featured two different sets of musicians: one, a traditional accompaniment of piano, bass, and drums, and the other a more sprawling affair with a saxophone, a tambourine, an extra guitarist, and female vocalist included. His sets on these nights were strikingly different, but each catered to an undeniable melodic sensibility. Jason Anderson writes modern-day anthems, and for those songs to stand out, he needs a band behind him that looks every bit as joyful to be there as he does. In this, as in all things, he passes with flying colors. Both groups of musicians were talented, on point, and ready for Anderson’s next (usually unexpected) move.
The most important thing they all had in common, however, was a set of smiles that lit up the room as they played, and the sense that any off-key note was an heirloom of the evening.
5. Jason Anderson is prolific in the most understated of ways.
In one form or another, Jason Anderson just released six albums. The quiet, singer-songwriter version of Jason Anderson just put out Life Sucks Love Sucks Dose Out with the accompanying free digital release Thug Poet. The rocking, E-Street-Band reminiscent version of Jason Anderson is celebrating The Hopeful and the Unafraid alongside its companion, Wilderness, Etc. Two more free releases, On The Street and A Song A Day, are available for download at ecarecords.com.
What have you done this year?
6. Jason Anderson doesn’t care who is listening.
Note the above, where three-quarters of the available albums are free. Note, also, that Anderson didn’t bother to bring merch to any of his three shows, and that none of these records seem to have shown up in your little freelancing inbox. I can’t confirm my suspicions, but watching Anderson bellow at the top of his lungs with a beaming grin on his face, one gets the sense that he doesn’t care whether he’s singing to two people or two thousand. He’s just really happy to be there.
7. Jason Anderson knows how to write a love song.
From the yearning harmonies of “July 4, 2004” to the jubilant shouts of “Tonight”, every song Anderson writes is a love song. Some of them are about relationships that feel more familiar than you care to admit, some of them are about people who sound like your friends, and if you listen carefully enough, all of them will break your heart just a little bit.
8. Jason Anderson is playing shows every Wednesday night in April at Pete’s Candy Store.
That gives those of you who call New York home every reason to make your own mind and your own list.