When I see shows billed as “An Evening With” some entertainer, I tend to quirk an eyebrow. The term promises a transportive adventure, in which you’ll be swept off your feet without leaving your seat, lost in the simultaneous intimacy and grandeur of whatever is happening onstage. Although few performers can deliver a living-room experience in a 1,000-seat venue, that’s exactly what Dan Wilson, of Semisonic fame and songwriting repute, did last night. Accompanying songs from his album Re-Covered with anecdotes swift and winding, Wilson spent a sweet evening with his hometown friends and fans at the Fitzgerald Theater.
Dan Wilson has written songs with artists from the Dixie Chicks to Halsey, creating more music for other people to record than for himself. But as he teased at the Clown Lounge and told me in an interview last spring, he has considered releasing his versions of co-written songs for years. Re-Covered, the culmination of that thought and effort, came out Aug. 4. Last night, he performed nearly all the songs off the album and tossed hand-drawn lyric videos into the mix.
Thanks to a sharp sense of humor, Wilson can come off as severe — after an audience member’s cell interrupted “Borrowed,” he scolded, “Unless that was my parents’ phone, you’ve got no f—ing excuse.” But for every zing, he had two tender stories, recounting the guitar his parents gave him and his brother Matt, plus Adele’s experience performing an early “Someone Like You” (he quoted, “Me mum cried”).
Wilson started a little stiff but loosened up as the show went on, stomping and pivoting his hips through “Home” and “Free Life.” When Matt Wilson came out to sing on “Landing,” a song the duo wrote for Matt’s 1998 album Burnt, White And Blue, the mood sprawled into full casual mode, with audience members yelling, “Matt!” Spurred by the cheering, Dan remembered the time his then-eight-year-old daughter saw his brother’s name in lights. “You should get a sign like that, so you can be as famous as Uncle Matt,” she once told her dad. “We can make that happen,” called a voice from the seats. “Oh, hi, John,” Dan said. It seemed another member of Semisonic, bassist John Munson, was in the building.
Rachel Ries, who performs as Her Crooked Heart, opened the night with some unplugged charisma of her own. Playing piano and electric guitar, she waxed confessional about a boy who broke up with her “in the quietest way possible.” In “Holiest Day,” she shared her story of being a Mennonite girl who met her “Amish doppelganger” and wanted to stay on the farm. Like Dessa, she balanced vulnerable lyrics with wry storytelling (Ries is local, so can the duo collaborate, please). And she plugged a couple of projects, including the forthcoming Kith and Kin Choir (send an email to join) and her canning enterprise: “If you like my tunes, you’re going to love my jams. I make preserves.”
I go to concerts partly because I love nightlife, but it’s hard to keep my energy from flagging as I stand or sit in a crowd. Last night, though, I left with the nurtured feeling I know from great books and dinners with my best friends. It seems that’s what to expect from a Dan Wilson show.
All Will Be Well
Never Meant To Love You
When The Stars Come Out
You And I
Not Ready To Make Nice
Someone Like You
All Will Be Well