Alexi Murdoch at the Cedar, 2/23/11
Alexi Murdoch and Haley Bonar
February 23, 2011
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
The heavily anticipated Alexi Murdoch show at the Cedar Cultural Center was everything that everyone had hoped for, and then some. The show started at a leisurely hour for a Wednesday night -- Murdoch and opener Haley Bonar went easy on the old-timers (or mid-week workers) by opening doors at 7:00 p.m. and ending the show just a hair past 10:30.
The auditorium was set up with folding chairs for a seated show, leaving the sold-out crowd in cahoots as to where to stake out their spots for the evening. Sometimes standing shows are necessary; although Alexi Murdoch is the type of show where it's deemed appropriate to sit down, I feel it could have freed up much more space for the audience. However, in that same notion, we're Minnesotan -- when have we ever had a problem getting close?
I arrived right as Haley Bonar was closing out her set. Pinned in the back of the auditorium by the door, I noticed a wonderful thing happening... A full attendance for the opening act. The dark, silent room was in awe of the songstress and she gained much praise from her hometown crowd. Bonar, back in the Twin Cities after a brief stint in Portland, OR, has garnered a great following and much honorable attention from the local music scene, as well as national. If you were among those that didn't get a ticket to this sold-out show, Haley Bonar will be celebrating her CD-release at the Cedar Cultural Center on April 22.
The lights went on, and then down again. Alexi Murdoch approached the stage, and if you hadn't found your spot in the chock-a-blocked theater yet, you were pretty much stuck where you were. Murdoch's presence demands composure, in a tranquil sort of way. He is a mainly acoustic performer, approaching the stage with his lovely guitarist, Nate. All he needs are his humble vocals and a minimal amount of instrumentation. Starting off the show with what appeared to be a very vintage acoustic guitar (we later discovered the guitar to be over 65 years old), he offered up "Through the Dark," off of his recent album Towards The Sun, which had the hall so silent you could hear a pin drop.
Photos by Denis Jeong Plaster
In true Minnesotan fashion, Murdoch's fans at the Cedar were among the gentlest and most respectful in recent memory. Which is helpful, because as Mason Jennings (who was in attendance to support his friend's show) said to me prior to the show, "Alexi likes silence, he plays best when it's silent." And of course without request, that is exactly how he got it. The Cedar was practically pitch dark, and the only body you could truly see was Murdoch's tall, boyish figure illuminated in blue, center stage.
In between songs, he had to repeatedly re-tune his gallantly ancient guitar, which only seemed irritating to Murdoch himself; the crowd didn't to mind a few more moments of his presence, in the least. The tuning became a source of comedy, and the old guitar gained its own fan club throughout the night. He carried on through the set hitting all the highlights, and even some of the more obscure songs, ranging across his three albums. Preceding his performance of "Her Hands Were Leaves," he showed us a funnier side of his personality -- for as calming as his show was, the man remains with a sense of humor -- chanting over his accordion with a small sample of some Scottish anthem, gathering much crowd participation and laughter.
The most surprising, and possibly thrilling part of the performance came at the end of the set when Murdoch announced that he had recently purchased a piano, and begun teaching himself how to play. Everyone in the crowd suddenly turned their heads towards the piano that is permanently stationed on the Cedar stage, and instantly grew their hopes high. Murdoch told us that he had never before performed the piano live, and the he flat out "doesn't know how to play, but what better time to break myself in." He walked over to the piano, and began playing; a little shaky through some portions, however understandable enough. The crowd did not mark any negative points on his performance check list. He played a song that he had recently written, which currently has no title.
I believe that my concert buddy reviewed it best; she looked over at me during "It's Only Fear" and says, "This show is like a blanket. There's something about his voice that makes you feel warm and safe, and I want to wrap myself up in it." Powerful words from a true music connoisseur.
Photos by Denis Jeong Plaster
Personal Bias: A long time fan of Alexi Murdoch, I've been waiting years to see him perform live. Also, he's British, and gorgeous -- 'nuff said.
The Crowd: A mature audience with a respectful way about them. I dig it.
Overheard in the crowd: "That's Mason Jennings standing over there!"
Random Notebook Dump: Had to sit in the back of the theater on the ply-board walk-ups for the entire-show, very uncomfortable. May need to see a chiropractor tomorrow.
"Through The Dark"
"Dream About Flying"
"The Ragged Sea"
"All My Days"
"Song For You"
"At Your Door"
"Her Hands Were Leaves"
"It's Only Fear"
Encore songs were two melodies that go "Untitled," as Alexi told me after the show. They are songs that do not have recordings, and he often performs tracks off-the-cuff.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.