It’s funny how vastly different the crowd at Castaways can be on any given night. On Saturday, the bar was filled with excited undergraduate students from both Ithaca College and Cornell who couldn’t wait for Sondre Lerche to take the stage. They had braved the disgusting Ithaca weather to come see a musician who in just a few years time has become an indie sensation.
Their wait was extended a bit by the opening act JBM, who unlike Sondre, few knew anything about. JBM, real name Jesse Marchant, didn’t get nearly enough respect from the crowd, who talked loudly over his ethereal set list. Jesse’s music was reminiscent of Ray LaMontagne, because of both the gruffness of his voice and the subject matter of his lyrics. “Going Back Home” and “Cleo’s Song” were particularly heart wrenching live, the latter track having been featured on Urban Outfitters latest iTunes playlist. Even more impressive was Marchant’s ability to vacillate between instruments, playing the guitar while using a kick drum and then later adding a harmonica into the equation. Thirty minutes into what could have been a headliners set, JBM bid the crowd adieu encouraging them to purchase his new album Not Even in July.
During the short intermission that followed there was influx of late arrivals who nearly filled the bar making it feel like a sauna. Lerche didn’t waste too much time; taking the stage quickly, he launched into a guitar solo that commanded the audience’s attention. Suddenly, the room grew quiet; only the sounds of Lerche’s instrument wafted through the air. Most of the songs that he opened with came from his most recent album Heartbreak Radio. Among this grouping was “Good Luck,” one of the many tracks that benefitted from a more stripped treatment. Lerche’s studio arrangements are often overwrought by their production so, it was a pleasant surprise to see Lerche alone up on the stage. The more reserved performance allowed Sondre to truly shine.
It was evident that Lerche feels most at home up on stage, where he can fully immerse himself in the music. And the crowd, most of whom were diehard fans, eagerly showed their love. They yelled out requests, whistled in between tracks and sang along with music like a chorus of backup singers. Newer songs like “Heartbreak Radio” had fans dancing along to the music, while older tracks like “Two Way Monologue” and “My Hands Are Shaking” elicited shrieks from some of the female fans in attendance. The two standout tracks of Lerche’s set list were “Airport Taxi Reception” and “After All,” both of which were featured on Sondre’s 2007 album Phantom Punch. “Airport Taxi Reception” featured a fantastic guitar solo that built to a climactic chorus. Contrarily, “After All” was one of the night’s most subdued performances, and reminiscent of The Beatles. The lyrics to the song are also quite beautiful; “No one can say all the things they feel without the risk of a failure. So keeping my cards close to my heart, I’ll view our love from a distance.”
More so than his music, it’s Lerche’s winning personality that has garnered him such a massive fan base, and those in attendance got to see him in top form. Lerche was sharp and self aware, commenting on how rude it was to constantly turn away from the crowd in order to change guitars… right before doing it. Later he mentioned that part of the reason he decided to come to Ithaca was due to the fact that Andy Bernard of The Office had attended Cornell, a particularly amusing fact for fans of the comedy. And then, towards the end of his set, he went into full salesman mode while trying to hawk his merchandise. Shortly after this, Lerche left the stage only to be wooed back by calls for an encore. Said encore was the perfect cap to the night. Lerche brought JBM back out for a disco infused track and then closed with a song that almost everyone seemed to know by heart. Before taking his final bow, Lerche let the crowd know he’d be back soon, and they let him know that they’ll be waiting.