Wows Finney Crowd
On Saturday night students and parents flocked to Finney Chapel
to take in singer-songwriter Erin McKeown’s dynamic performance.
Enthusiastic fans danced in the isles of the chapel as McKeown strummed
one of three guitars she played during the show, bobbing her pigtails
to the beat.
The show began with an upbeat tune called “Hum” and
a little audience participation. McKeown then launched into her
set, which consisted of several songs from her album Distillation,
released in 2000. She also played some old favorites from her 1999
release, Monday Morning Cold, as well as some new songs that will
appear on her upcoming album, expected to hit stores this April.
When introducing one of the new tracks, McKeown told her audience,
“This is what it was like when I wrote it and in a few months
you’ll be able to see what happened to it.”
McKeown, who first performed at Oberlin with the folk group Voices
on the Verge last December, returned to the College as part of a
trio. Bassist-guitarist Rich Hinman and drummer George Javori began
performing with her about a week ago when they set out on a month-long
tour. In a brief interview after the show, McKeown said the purpose
of this tour is, “to try out new songs and create a buzz for
the new record.”
Her audience seemed to know her well. Raucous but not rowdy students
do-si-doed near the front of the chapel during songs like “Blackbirds”
and “La Petite Mort,” both of which sounded like country
with a little more rock and a little less twang. McKeown happily
shared the spotlight with a few audience members who danced their
way across the front aisle, elbows and knees in the air. Looking
down from the stage, McKeown commented, “That was the weirdest,
most fabulous dancing I’ve ever seen!”
In addition to her own danceable tunes, McKeown also did a few covers
of songs by a diverse collection of artists. Thanking Oberlin for
providing her with a piano onstage, she played Coldplay’s
subdued melody, “The Scientist.” She also lent her voice
to “Why Don’t You Do Right?”, an old jazz tune
written by Joe McCoy. When an explosion of clapping hands and stomping
feet brought the trio back onstage for an encore, they rocked out
to Pink’s single “M!ssundaztood.”
When asked what kind of music she’s been listening to lately,
McKeown frowned and explained that the CD player in the band’s
van was recently stolen. Before this unfortunate incident, she said
the trio had been traveling to the music of Coldplay, Eminem, Curtis
Mayfield, Mos Def, Neil Young and Pink. McKeown described her interest
in Pink as a “guilty pleasure.” She recently saw the
pop artist in concert and said that, “She makes a good show.”
McKeown’s eclectic taste is evident in her own songs as well
as in those she chooses to borrow from fellow artists. Her music
is difficult to categorize and most of her fans seem to embrace
her distinctive sound, which changes from jazz to funk to folk from
one song to the next.
Asked to describe her own music, McKeown responded, “I’m
not interested in dividing things up by genre…You can also
describe music’s emotional impact. I would hope that my songs
could be described as honest, organic and entertaining.”
McKeown said she’s happy to be performing her songs live again,
after all the work she’s been doing on the new album. She
stressed the importance of performance, saying, “I love it.
It’s part of my job.”
The 24-year-old began her career while attending Brown University.
“It was like I was doing an internship while I was still in
school,” she said.
She took piano lessons as a child and, later, taught herself to
play several instruments including the guitar, the banjo and the
mandolin. She didn’t begin what she called “serious
songwriting” until college.
She cited many different sources of inspiration for her lyrics,
including but not limited to her own life experiences.
“There was a period when my songs were about things that were
happening to me,” she said. “But I’m interested
in so many more things than myself now.” One of the songs
on her upcoming album, for example, was inspired by a short story
McKeown displays a rare combination of talent and modesty. Because
she doesn’t take herself too seriously, her songs are provocative
and fun at the same time.
McKeown said she enjoys bringing her songs to the stage because
they sound so different live from on CD. “Songs are changeable
things,” she said, “I know there’s some words
I want to get in and some chords that come at a certain time and
a way you’re supposed to feel by the end of the song.”
On Saturday night, these words, chords and sentiments mixed with
the energy of Obies who skipped vigorously or swayed slowly depending
on the song. Before leaving, McKeown looked into the audience and
said, “You guys have a pretty nice school here.”