It was a short but sweet night at the Crystal Bay Casino on Tuesday when Anderson East and his national Encore tour swept through North Lake Tahoe.
The music of the South, particularly its R&B and soul roots, will always have a rich history and tradition that musicians will want to employ. Trying to emulate and continue that musical legacy is at the heart of what East is doing and he’s the latest in a growing crowd of similar contemporaries such as St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Leon Bridges and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. It’s nothing new what Anderson East is doing, but when you listen to his soulful baritone pouring out like warm whiskey into a moonlit ballad, it’s moths to a flame.
A healthy gathering of moths fluttered through the Crown Room in anticipation of East’s pretty music Tuesday night. First, they were treated to the strummed musings of J.S. Ondara. With just his guitar, his voice, and bubbly banter, the sharp-dressed Ondara delivered a poised set of languid, acoustic tales.
It was a tender set that could be patchworked into a musical quilt with the likes of Bob Dylan, Damien Rice and The Swell Season. It is the perfect music to drift in and out of while driving alone in the country, which doesn’t always make for a great set at a club, but Ondara’s sincerity and charisma helped create a meaningful connection with the audience that kept cheering him on after each song.
The smooth horns of Jay Z’s “Encore” over the speakers announced the arrival of East and his band to the stage, a sleek and fresh choice for entrance music that is an obvious nod to his current tour and album. They wasted no time and quickly eased into the swaying soul of “King for a Day,” from his latest album, “Encore.”
Rich and bright, East’s voice blended well with the sunny horn arrangements and laid-back rhythm. The singer then slowed it down for the gospel-blues ballad “If You Keep Loving Me,” whose candlelit verses eventually flamed up into a fiery release of organ, guitar and East’s soaring voice.
Without question, the guiding light of the night was East’s rich pipes. It’s a full and comforting sound that feels like a fresh stain of rich mahogany. It resonates in the same timbre as Ray LaMontagne and East’s slow floral soul and hopeless romantic vibe in songs such as “Without You” and “Devil In Me” have much in common with LaMontagne’s earlier work.
The set moved at a solid, mid-tempo pace that was given its only shot of juice in the form of a teased out “Learning” that featured extended organ and guitar solos and East leading the crowd in clapping along with the rhythm. It proved to be the high watermark for East and the rest of his band as the the group stepped off the stage two songs later, citing a cold that had finally gotten East to reluctantly tap out roughly 45 minutes into the set. (His scheduled show the following night in Sacramento was postponed.)
It was a disappointing end to a promising show that had more to give. But you gotta respect that East and his band did what they could to bring smiles to people’s faces, and everybody gets a couple sick days, even musicians. Tahoe definitely will be pining for an encore from Anderson East and hopefully he’ll be able to deliver soon.
– Garrett Bethmann