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Johanna Samuels celebrated her “Bystander” album release on Saturday night at Zebulon, but the arrival of the singer-songwriter’s second full-length was only half the reason for the good vibes. As she said towards the end of the set, “This is probably the most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever done, but it’s my birthday at midnight!” The crowd filled with friends and fans rejoiced with her for that, and for the music, clapping, shrieking and yelling approval throughout the night.
“Come forward, my friends,” Samuels said to start it off as the band hit the first notes of the opening song, “Phil Spector Is Dead.” “Golden Gate” was introduced with a touch to the chest, a pause, a crack of a smile, “Here we … f*cking go,” and a laugh. It’s a song that starts out with, “Thought I’d figure it out when I’m older / Now I’m older, I haven’t figured it out.” Those are lyrics that align with the music that goes through chords and vocal changes that knocks one off the expected path.
“Tampa” and “Any Good” were bookends. “Tampa” is a song about forgiveness, “What do you do with that love oh / Whatever comes just let it go / Wish them forgiveness.” “Any Good” was introduced as “this song is about the opposite of forgiveness” and the lyrics “I said, ‘Darling please be careful with me’ / Shame on me.”
As the set — which featured guest turns from Madison Cunningham for a couple of songs — wound down, Samuels let her sly wit come out as she gave the hint of an encore, “And depending on how you handle it. If you’re really upset and you all stay, I don’t know.” With that, she let the emotions hang out with the “shit-talking” song, “Ugly On The Inside.” The final song of the official album show, “The Rest of Us,” was dedicated to her mother. The dancing moves took over for the encore cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong.”
Sending the early crowd to line up at the ticket counter was Baby Chuck. He got the blood flowing early with Americana rock. The set lasted an all-too-brief 18 minutes. Olivia Kaplan might not have been able to see the crowd in the darkened environment of Zebulon, but she could hear the sounds of approval. Her songs dealt with subjects such as the encouragement to persist. For her song “Talking to the Dead,” that has the lyrics “In the age of forgetting,” it seemed all so appropriate that she forgot the opening lines to the song and looked to a friend offstage for some trigger hints.
Setlist: Phil Spector Is Dead, Valentine’s Day Is Stupid, Golden Gate, Tampa, Any Good, Little Buckets, Holy Mothers, Ugly On The Inside, The Rest Of Us. Encore: Lovesong (The Cure cover).
Photos and recap by Notes From Vivace