Ann Arbor musician Chris Bathgate excites with energetic performance
I usually feel sorry for bands who have to perform for crowd members immersed in their own conversations. How can either party concentrate — the musicians on their playing and the audience on its appreciating — when the room is filled with chatter?
But during Chris Bathgate’s Friday show at The Loft, 414 E. Michigan Ave., in Lansing, the talking simply added to the sense the Ann Arbor folk artist was playing for more than the standard crowd of anonymous fans.
The show had the feeling of an intimate house show, where friends had gathered to talk and drink and unwind while soaking up some music.
When Bathgate began his performance, there were people surrounding — but not crowding — the stage, as well as sitting down at candlelit tables near the venue’s back. The first strums of Bathgate’s guitar were accompanied by the sound of audience members’ muted voices and laughter. But I wasn’t bothered — and neither was Bathgate.
Although Bathgate often performs as a solo act, on Friday, attendees had the pleasure of witnessing him play with a full band. He was joined by two women on violin, as well as men on guitar, bass and drums. Those accompanying him — including Kalamazoo’s Graham Parsons, who played both standard and slide guitar— are known to be talented musicians in their own right, which added to the sound’s excellence.
Bathgate played many songs from his most recent release, April’s “Salt Year,” including the album’s title track and “No Silver” as well as older favorites, such as “Serpentine.” His music always has been mellow and rustic, but Friday’s performance had a languidness about it, making it feel like Bathgate’s swan song before the hours of daylight significantly shorten and the weather turns frigid. Like most Michiganians, he too was anticipating the long winter ahead.
Even opening acts Gifts or Creatures and Jeff Pianki were singing sleepily, as if they too were preparing themselves and the crowd for impending hibernation. With their performance, members of Lansing-based Gifts or Creatures seemed to be sharing a quirky lullaby, while Pianki sang much of his set with his eyes closed, slowly and steadily singing his heartfelt lyrics.
But moments of controlled chaos permeated Bathgate’s performance. During some songs, such as “Levee,” audience members couldn’t help but bob their heads, clap their hands and move their bodies along with the group’s galloping drums. Bandmates would build the sound up until it filled the space with its power, and then effortlessly they would rein it back in, playing low and smooth once again.
Bathgate had great stage presence. He was comfortable under the spotlight and with speaking to the crowd. He was enjoying himself; his bandmates — who often seemed peacefully lost in the music — were enjoying themselves; so the audience couldn’t help but enjoy themselves too.
Throughout the night, the room had a pulse, and this pulse I still could feel moving through my body even after I had left the venue.
Before this show, I only had been a casual Bathgate listener, having had “Salt Year” playing in the background while doing homework or driving to the store. But Bathgate’s Lansing performance left an impression on me. With the energy of his live show imprinted in my mind, I know I will be listening to Bathgate much more this winter and in the seasons to come.