Wednesday night saw the return of Graywhale Entertainment’s biweekly Local Artist Series with a prolific performance by headliner RuRu.
To be honest, Graywhale’s University Mall store is not the ideal venue for a live show. The acoustics aren’t the best and the sound system is middling. In short, it’s a record store, not a live venue. Almost every set I have ever seen performed at the store has been sub-par, not necessarily as a fault of the artist, but because the sonic element of the space often contributes negatively to the overall sound. That being said, the fact that Graywhale is willing to open its doors and book great artists for free is amazing and, despite the venue’s shortcomings, deserves to be supported. After all, you’re not paying for it. Graywhale is one of the few independent record stores we have around here and Utah Valley music fiends need to support them in any way we can, especially considering the state of the record industry today.
That being said, Wednesday night was not RuRu’s best set ever, mostly due to the venue. However, when you’re Isaac Russell, one of your weaker shows is still better than a lot of bands’ strongest effort. Russell completely eschewed his traditional acoustic guitar for his eight song set, instead opting for the fuller sound of a Gibson hollowbody electric. The setlist was split almost evenly between new songs and older material from his 2008 album, Elizabeth.
While old favorites like “Why” and “Excuse” will never get stale for Russell fans, the show’s most interesting moments came when the artist debuted his most recent songwriting exploits. Opening with a newly completed, untitled song, Russell provided a glimpse into the future direction of his writing. More rocking than usual, his new songs hew closer to the more rock-oriented sounds of Conor Oberst than the alt-country feel of Ryan Adams. The set’s second song, “Be Honest,” wouldn’t have felt out of place on some of Oberst’s later Bright Eyes records, featuring the singer constantly fluctuating between a whisper and a scream over a single guitar.
However, the night’s highlight came in the form of Americana-tinged rocker “The Light At The End Of The Tunnel.” With beautiful guitar work and a comparably awesome keyboard part to boot, the song embodies everything that is great about Russell’s brand of folk-rock: the simple, but infectious melodies, the tight musicianship and the penetrating insights on topics well beyond the intellectual and emotional range of most 17-year-olds. When the frontman contemplates which supernatural force controls death and comes to the conclusion that “it all depends on who you like,” it represents not only a young poet wise beyond his years, but also a stark assessment of the nature of religion in modern society. This, my friends, is what great music sounds like.
The show opened with performances by Code Hero and Desert Noises. As previously stated, almost nobody sounds great at Graywhale, so this wasn’t exactly Woodstock. However, both bands turned in solid performances — or at least as solid as the venue would permit. I look forward to seeing both bands play again outside the walls of a record store in hopes of experiencing their respective live shows at their full potential.
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