When it comes to intimate performance spaces, it doesn’t get much more in-your-face than the tiny confines of the Bryant-Lake Bowl’s 82-person capacity theater. On Sunday night, seeing the established and revered singer-songwriters Dan Wilson, Caroline Smith, and Jeremy Messersmith pour their hearts out from just feet away felt not just rare but dangerously special, like a sudden movement or sneeze from someone in the audience might just derail the whole show.
And so the small, squeezed-in group of attendees had no choice but to hold their breaths (and try not to pass out from the sweltering heat) as the performers took turns playing short sets and then filed out on stage to sing round-robin, beginning with a showstopping cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Don’t Forget to Cry.” With only acoustic guitars to accompany them, Wilson, Smith, and Messersmith pared down their songs to their most basic elements, and the room had no choice but to travel along on the ups and downs of every story and melody.
All three songwriters specialize in affairs of the heart, and as each song dug the knife a little deeper into the depths of heartache it was hard not to feel like a raw nerve that had been exposed to the elements—especially during the night’s highlight, “Someone Like You,” with Wilson and Messersmith tackling the high notes and Smith digging down deep into Adele’s sorrowful sighs. But there were also thankfully many, many moments of levity, especially when Wilson, Smith, and Messersmith sat side by side and fed off of one another’s charm and wit.
It was clear that Messersmith and Wilson already felt more than comfortable bantering back and forth—the pair have a long history of collaboration, including their work together on Messersmith’s 2008 album The Silver City—but it was Smith who kept the energy high and kept everyone on their toes.
When host Steve Seel asked Jeremy Messersmith about his signature Mad Men-era hairstyle and Buddy Holly glasses and Messersmith expressed dismay over having people care about his appearance, it was Smith who interrupted him to interject, “Welcome to every day of being a woman, Jeremy.” And when Wilson and Messersmith danced around the backstories to their songs and tried to out-clever one another during the round-robin, it was Smith who cut to the chase with bold, brief, and poignant explanations. “This one is for my mother, who taught me to keep moving on, no matter how many assholes you marry,” she blurted out before “Child of Moving On,” leaving the audience smirking and stunned as she launched into the song.
By the time she got to her aching “Bloodstyle,” it was clear that Smith was leading the show. With a wide grin, she turned to the audience and asked, “Do you want to see these guys be my back-up singers?,” then took off her bracelet and ring and put them on Wilson and Messersmith so they’d have the proper bling for the job. And when the trio sauntered back out for an unplanned encore, Smith took charge and commanded that Wilson end the show with a no-brainer: his Semisonic hit, “Closing Time,” performed in perfect three-part harmony.
For those who couldn’t catch the show in person (and for those of us who were there and want to re-live that Everly Brothers cover again and again), the entire event was filmed and recorded. Dan Wilson, Caroline Smith, and Jeremy Messersmith’s show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl will air on the Current this Sunday, January 25, from 6-8 p.m. during the Local Show. Audio is embedded above; video of select portions will be posted at a later date.
Set List, Act 1
“The One Thing”
“Buy Me Something”
“Half About Being a Woman”
“Your Brighter Days”
“Love Without Fear”
Set List, Act 2
Dan Wilson: “Don’t Forget to Cry” (Everly Brothers)
Caroline Smith: “Animal”
Jeremy Messersmith: “Miracles”
Dan Wilson: “Disappearing”
Caroline Smith: “Child of Moving On”
Jeremy Messersmith: “One Night Stand”
Dan Wilson: “All Kinds”
Caroline Smith: “Bloodstyle”
Jeremy Messersmith: “Ghost”
Dan Wilson: “Someone Like You”
Dan Wilson: “Closing Time”