What is, to you, the hallmark of good music? Is it something that is ephemeral? Or, need it stand the test of time?
One of the hallmarks, as there are many, that dictates what good music is to me is whether it can to transport the listener aurally to another time and place.
On Friday evening, we may have been sitting within the confines of Woodland’s Tavern in Columbus, but we were transported to a medieval frame of mind. While I am very hesitant to place a single label on the music that was heard, as you all know that I abhor that practice, what was heard was wonderfully original, and spanned many styles.
Common Center treated the audience to an inspiring set of songs that captured elements of rock, folk, and so much more. Describing their sound almost defies definition, but here goes… Spectral Gypsy Folk Rock with a hint of Morphine-infused Jefferson Airplane.
The seven-piece band hailing from Covington, KY, is comprised of Liam Hall (vocals/guitar), Lewis Connell (keyboards/vocals), Sasha Suskind (saxophone), Jessica Graff (vocals/violin), Dennis DeZarn (bass), Ian Smith (vocals/percussion) and Adam Gockenbach (drums).
Their 15-song set was a blend of the past and present, with six new songs played for an appreciative crowd of locals, plus family and friends of the band that made the trek north to Columbus.
Opening with Inner Earth from their 2015 “Gypsy River” album, the ethereal vocals and Euro-gypsy tone perfectly embodied the slower tempo of the song. The wonderful harmonies of Hall and Graff were a sign of things to come.
The bass-driven beginning of People of the Rain was juxtaposed nicely with Graff’s understated violin play, showing a beautiful amount of emotion as the rest of the band joined in.
They captured a full-on gypsy effect with the opening strains of To the Underground, a superlative mesh of percussion, drums, sax and violin. Hall’s vocal work placed the listener squarely in a trance-like state. Suskind channeled his inner Mark Sandman with sublime stabs of the saxophone.
Launching into the new track, No Questions, the band started with a midtempo pace that quickly escalated. Hall’s vocals had an almost hip-hop rhythm on the Euro-rock romper.
Suskind got down and dirty with a sax interlude that featured Connell’s keyboards flourishing brightly.
With a quiet start, the new track Embers had a darkness to it that set the tone for many of the new tracks heard this evening. Graff’s emotional vocals elicited a “Holy Shit!” exclamation from this writer, playing well with the dark groove behind her.
We were transported to a summer breeze washing gently against us as the band played Fields, with an almost end-of-night feeling brought on by the sax fills. Smith’s vocals were perfect and emotional, as you felt the pain in his voice flow through you. This was the standout track at the midpoint of their set.
The very upbeat Brothers carried a full-on Appalachian sound that had some in the crowd dancing around the room. With phazer-like stabs from the keyboards and a dirty sax sound, this was obviously an audience favorite.
Beginning with violin and keyboard interplay, Alligator Road had a faster tempo that carried an almost Dave Matthews Band feel. That said, their sound is truly their own, once again transporting the listener across the ocean to a far-away land.
All My Wishes, another new track, had a dark groove courtesy of excellent violin, sax, bass work. “Deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper…” carried special poignancy within the midtempo number, showing they can play darker music that is aurally pleasing.
Going even darker on the new track Need or Want, the wonderful harmonies were accompanied by yet more dirty saxophone from Suskind. The staccato percussion stabs gave the song a Whovian feel, showcasing their musical range without losing touch of the band’s core sound.
Another short interlude followed, this time provided by Graff’s stellar violin playing back-and-forth with Connell’s keyboard work.
While each member of the and had been showcased throughout the evening, on the new All on Your Own, each member was thrust into the spotlight at various points of the song. Although the vocals were saying “go away, yeah… yeah…”, we stayed, knowing there was more to come.
Playing is only his second live performance with the band, drummer Gockenbach had a hand in writing the new track Sewn in History. The song featured some finger-picking on the violin by Graff, in-line with a tight bass groove. When the band kicked-in, the tune took a darker turn that was highlighted by seriously wonderful harmonies.
As the band began tearing down their equipment, the crowd was not to be placated, chanting “One more song…” So, Hall grabbed his 12-string guitar and a barstool, launching into Close Your Eyes. As the song progressed, each member of the band joined him on stage, providing acapella backup vocals, making the tune an exclamation point on the evening.
And with that, their set was complete. What had I just witnessed? I was unsure how to describe the feeling of euphoria that was coursing through my veins, with my cerebral capacity to process the wonderment that befell my ears on this evening.
Common Center is not following any sort of trend in music, relying instead on the ability to play what is true within their collective mindset. To say that this writer was blown away would be the understatement of the year.
This is a band that we hope will make more forays into Columbus, and I urge everyone to make it a point to experience what this band has on offer. I really do not believe they will stay the local/regional gem that they are for much longer.
You will want to be able to say you saw them when they were still relatively unknown.
- Inner Earth
- People of the Rain
- To the Underground
- No Questions *
- Sax Interlude
- Embers *
- Alligator Road
- All My Wishes *
- Need or Want *
- Violin Interlude
- All on Your Own *
- Sewn in History *
- Close Your Eyes
* denotes new song
Common Center – Fields