On last Thursday night, Sirius XM’s Coffee House program hosted a night of music featuring artists regularly played on their station. The show was held at LA’s best venue, The Troubadour, with an early 7:00pm start time for the 3 band night. It was an interesting crowd, with a mix of typically older fans and young, hip-looking Instagram model types. Not necessarily what one would expect from this line-up.
When one thinks of “coffee house music”, images of emotional singer-songwriters strumming acoustic guitars and pushing CDs next to where you buy your mocha lattes probably comes to mind. If that’s the case, then Matt Hartke would perfectly fit the image you had in your head. Appearing on stage alone on a stool without any announcement, he began playing while my head was down, and the music I heard was so crystal clear and perfectly sung, I thought I was still listening to the pre-show soundtrack from the Troubadour speakers.
Hartke played a mix of new songs, such as his upcoming romantic ditty “American Dream”, and the hauntingly beautiful “Evergreen”, and earlier singles, like the airy pop of “Leave a Message”. Songs like “Message” and “Lion’s Share” had a wisp of melancholy to them, though Hartke was not above infusing a dose of humor into tracks like “Terrible Man” (“you’re were a good boy, but a terrible man”). He closed his set with his hit “Gold” (17.5m Spotify streams to date), bringing out his co-write of the song to make it a lovely duet.
As far as coffee house music goes, JD & The Straight Shot would lie on the opposite end of the spectrum of Hartke. A six-piece Americana band, the group kicked up a folksy ruckus, with story songs inspired by pirates (the bluesy “Dead Men Tell No Tales”) and Aladdin’s genie (the beautiful single “Anything But Love”). Along with being excellent musicians, the group impresses by truly being a songwriting collective, with each member being credit as having written one of the songs they performed. Drummer Shawn Pelton’s “Walkin’ on a Wire” blasted out the gates, while the guitarist/mandolin player Marc Copely’s “It Must Be Night” spun things into a more macabre tone. While most of their songs would fit into the Americana category, tracks like “Take It Slow” added a latin/bossa nova flavor to their repertoire, while their contribution to the Jane Got a Gun soundtrack, ‘Perdition” was a fitting western ballad (and the favorite song of the friend joining me for the show).
“Invisible” was credited as being written by the whole band and JD’s song, who brought in some Beatles-esque harmonies, though it was the ending cut-in of The Who‘s “Baba O’Riley”, that threw the room into a frenzy. And if anyone ever tells you a fiddle player can’t be a rock star, point them to Erin Slaver, who blew the room away as she tackled The Who classic and her own songs, breaking things down in epic style. The band closed the night with a cover of The Allman Brother‘s “Jessica”, giving the group another opportunity to showcase their incredible musicianship.
I’ve personally been following headliner Matt Costa‘s career since his first album, and seeing the evolution he’s made from producing chill surf folk in the vein of compatriots like Jack Johnson, to infusing his songs with the soul of classic rock’s brightest luminaries, has been a true pleasure. Opening with the quiet bounce of “I Remember it Well”, Costa gradually built the energy of the show, following that track with the folkier “Pacific Grove”, which bared echoes of Bob Dylan. It was when Costa moved to the piano that The Beatles’ influence on the night took center stage again, as “Mr. Pitiful”, with it’s plunked keys and cheery carnival melody has always sounded like a lost Paul McCartney cut.
When Costa picked up the guitar again, it was time to take the show up a notch. Channeling Tom Petty on the rocker “Sharon”, and the Roy Orbison on the country-pop of “Sweet Rose”, Costa’s songwriting versatility was evident. Along with guitar, piano and harmonica, Costa even picked up a trumpet for a brief solo.
Though Costa’s musical growth over the years has been impressive, his older songs still sound the truest to him as an artist. The gorgeous, heartbreaking “Astair” soothed the room with it’s delicate, guitar-picked melody, while “Cold December” got all his fans to singalong. Closers “Sunshine” and an alternate version of “Pacific Grove” kept the energy high until the end (though I would have loved to hear “The Road” close out the show).
Mart Hartke recently released the single “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” and has others planned for release this year. JD & The Straight Shot‘s album The Great Divide came out last March and is available to listen to now. Matt Costa released the new single “Make That Change” in May and has new songs coming soon.