I arrive at Café Campus to a sold-out show, and notice right away that the venue is unusually full for 7:45pm… the opener goes on at 8pm and if I wasn’t reviewing this show I might have skipped it since I found out that Dean Lewis, who is supposed to be warming us up, lost his voice and won’t be performing tonight. It’s a sea of shiny hair – stylish teens, their parents, and a couple handfuls of 30-50 year-olds; an overwhelmingly white crowd. I notice this even before Edwin Raphael, the opening act, points out that he’s the only brown dude in the room. The green spotlight makes him and his bandmate look ghoulish, and the event coordinator in me wants to tell the lighting technician to switch it up for something softer. He’s jocular and welcoming, and he starts out the way Noah Kahan did when I saw him opening for George Ezra back in April, by letting the audience know he’s going to play a couple of sad songs for us.
He starts the show off with Tangerine Skies, then banters with the audience and moves into Colder. It sounds a lot like the previous song, with a slightly catchier chorus. He plays two more songs, one he wrote two weeks ago… that could probably use a little more love and Green Eyes. By this time people are really chatty. They gave him the hush for the first few songs and laughed at his jokes but they’re over it. It’s too bad, because this latest song is pretty good, and he’s doing some more interesting vocals, changing speed and pitch. Mind you, the lyrics haven’t improved: “and you used to fight it over in my head/but now I see a lot clearer, bye bye/and you used to fight it over in my bed/but now I see a lot clearer, bye bye.”
Miss the Sun is next, and this one, he warns, is “super fucking sad, sadder than before.” He asks for audience participation but it feels really contrived. He tells us it’ll be “a vocal lesson for you guys” and as usual, it works. The audience gets involved, waiving cell phones in lieu of lighters. They sing along, play along, even though he’s talking to them like kindergarteners and saying “good job” and “beautiful, beautiful”. It just doesn’t feel genuine, and maybe he is just an awkward guy but I’m reminded of all the douchebags I dated in my twenties and some of them could play the guitar or write poetry and play the victim but they always ghosted me and/or I caught them dating someone else and/or gave me that tortured artist excuse.
Isle of Strawberries follows and Thrills Sought After which is a boring song about someone wanting more coke at 2am. After seven songs too many, I decide that Edwin Raphael’s music is sad but forgettable, not haunting.
Noah Kahan gets on stage at 9pm sharp and opens with the country-inspired foot-stomper Fine and the energy immediately shifts from “sad shit” to optimistic. The happy continues with Passenger and the pre-chorus “take me, my heart and my soul/pick me apart and look inside, inside/Fill me with dreams I can’t hold/Keep me afloat in this cold world, cold world” gives me the lyrical poetry I’ve been craving. The audience continues to clap along but can’t overshadow his strong and gorgeous voice, and I’m reminded why I haven’t tired of the four Noah Kahan songs pretty much on repeat on my driving playlist. Before he plays Hallelujah, he pays lip service to the anti-Trump emotion shared by every artist I’ve seen in the last two years, and thanks his band, without whom, he says, he “would be the Jewish Ed Sheeran.” He mentions the “sad shit” but the thing with Noah Kahan is that his lyrics are so well-written and so relatable, you don’t end up feeling sadder… you end up feeling understood.
He tells a story next about how he met his manager at 16 years old after putting Sink on Soundcloud under a pseudonym, and I wonder suddenly how old this dude is. Turns out – 21! I am blown away. The depth of his experience seems too much for someone so young when after the insightful False Confidence, about Kahan’s disdain for marketing himself, he plays Carlos, a song he wrote for a buddy who passed away, who loved to travel. “I play it every time I go somewhere cool,” he says, and it is sombre and tender at first but wells up into a powerful chorus with a gorgeous bridge. It plays like a tribute, and it’s a beautiful one.
His bandmate reminds him that he skipped my favourite song, and he plays Please, the one that reminds me of his ability to string words together like Jason Mraz. I’m clearly not the only one who loves this song, as I hear all the voices singing along. And that’s the thing about sad shit. It’s not depressing because when everyone is singing along with you because every one of us has had that moment where we ask ourselves, “but what mental illness do I have?” I’m reminded of an episode of the podcast My Favorite Murder, where they describe a 2013 article from Time Magazine that explains how “music evolved as a tool of social living… the pleasure that comes from singing together is our evolutionary reward for coming together cooperatively, instead of hiding alone in a cave by yourself.”
His next song, Come Down, seems like it’s about a bad trip, but it’s also, for me, about a friend struggling with pain and grief, and sticking it out with them, and that has me holding back tears. Kahan mentions, not for the first time, that he’s sick while thanking us for singing along. He jokes and laughs easily with the audience, and all the pretentiousness of the opening act is highlighted once more. This feels genuine. Then it’s a cover of Jolene, “not the one you think” – this is Ray LaMontagne’s version, which is more appropriate to Kahan’s vocals, then it’s the well-known Hurt Somebody and everyone is singing along now. Hold it Down is raspier than the Spotify version, and at first, I’m confused but then I think how lucky I am to be able to hear it the way the artist wants to sing it, and not the watered-down edits we often get. Kahan leaves the stage briefly, but the audience knows he’ll return a few minutes later for the encore… He hasn’t played Young Blood yet. I scream along with them because I love this song and I am starting to genuinely like this guy. I think he’s seen some shit, and I’m impressed that he can look at it intelligently and dig through it and grow from it and share it. Kahan comes back out, promises us two more songs, and plays Catastrophize, giving us some more of those sing-a-long moments, and ends with the fan favourite we knew he would. It’s a strong finish, and I leave knowing that next time Noah Kahan is in town, I’ll be at his show again, my way of saying thank you for getting me and that I get him, and not to worry – I also sit in traffic (and therapy) and try to figure out what’s wrong with me, and the world, and why I care so fucking much.
NOAH KAHAN SETLIST
Jolene (Ray LaMontagne cover)
Hold it Down
Review – Carrie-Ann KlodaShare this :