Words and videos by: Bradley Darby
Acoustic singer-songwriters have always had a special place in my heart. I can’t explain it, but I have always been a sucker for the Marc Broussard’s, Jack Johnson’s, Matt Nathanson’s, and Todd Snider’s of the world. An acoustic guitar can go a long way when partnered with some witty stage banter and clever lyrics sung deep from the soul of the person who penned them. Its good to put the dancing shoes away every now and again and just chill out with a glass of Makers Mark, ride out your buzz while soothing to a crooner like Stephen Kellogg.
Kellogg normally spends his days as the leader of Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers (SK6ers), a Massachusetts based four piece that I have not only had the pleasure of seeing in the past at this same venue, (click for review from Sept. ‘10) but have also had a chance to catch many times over the past few years. But this was my first time experiencing Kellogg in the intimate solo acoustic setting. He plays a mean acoustic, channels his inner Dylan to shred the harmonica, and writes beautiful lyrics, about love, fatherhood, staying young, loneliness, and family…. not to mention everything else a 10 year vet of the grassroots music scene with over 1000 shows under his belt has endured.
The opener for the show was Tift Merritt, a 36 year old singer-songwriter with a country vibe which some people compare to Joni Mitchell or Emmylou Harris. (link to “Good Hearted Man” from 2004’s Tambourine) Merritt has released two albums on Lost Highway Records in addition to a few independent and live albums. Unfortunately I was unable to catch Tift, but she did come out to sing a song with Stephen Kellogg during his set (more on that later) and I was really digging her voice. There seemed to be many folks in attendance to see Tift, as a few songs into Kellogg’s set there were a few choice seats that opened up. You can get more information about Tift at her website.
Stephen Kellogg took the stage right about 8:45 with what appeared to be four mini chests or nightstands behind him with a few random pictures on them and a single strand of lights running along the curtain behind him, SK started his set with “Lonely in Columbus” and “A (With Love)” both from 2009’s The Bear. “Anthem of Our Discovery” from the 2005 self-titled album followed, but was stripped down even more than expected for an acoustic show. It was a nice change of pace for a song that usually gets the energy going at a SK6ers show. Kellogg then put the harmonica on for the first time as he asked the crowd if anyone served in the military. After 5 seconds of dead silence, he dedicated “4th of July” from 2007’s Glassjaw Boxer to soldiers serving everywhere.
A few weeks before the show Kellogg had announced via his Facebook page that he was going to take requests for this tour via the Facebook event page for each show. Well a highlight of the evening came when he announced that tonights Facebook request was “Girlfriend As Pretty As You” from the 2005 EP One Night in Brooklyn, a song requested by me via the event page. He then read off a few one liner quotes, some of which were from the mouth of former Dunder-Mifflin Regional Manager Michael Scott. Sadly I was not able to jot these down as I was getting another Makers Mark from the bar. Kellogg then played a new song about falling in love with his wife at the age of 18 called “1993.”
“Start the Day Early” and “Such a Way” both from the self-titled album, and two of my favorite SK6ers songs followed. Kellogg then welcomed Tift Merritt to the stage and together they traded verses for the classic Kenny Loggins tune “Dannys Song.” Merritt and Kellogg’s voices complemented each other very well and I was sad to see Tift go after only one song.
It was time for some crowd participation, as Kellogg divided the crowd into two sections and gave each their own 3 words to yell when called upon. He then played the uplifting “Shady Esperanto and the Young Hearts” from The Bear, asking the crowd to yell “Rhea, Pearlman, Joanie, Chachi, Liberachi”, which as far as I know has no relevance to the song. The first set ended with “Milwaukee” from Glassjaw Boxer, another favorite song that references Kelloggs tour manager and cousin Jessica, who has also acted as merch girl and the SK6ers biggest fan for 10 years.
Kellogg then left the stage through the crowd and almost immediately came back on for the encore. After thanking the crowd, and pointing out a picture of his Grandma on the table behind him, it was two songs from The Bear to close the night out. First up was the title track which SK explained that the name had came from a lesson he learned as a child, and as Kellogg sang “sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you. Sometimes you’re gonna win, and sometimes you’re gonna lose. But you know, in the end, theres no apologies” you could tell it was a lesson about not giving up no matter what the circumstances. The last song of the night was “Satisfied Man” which tackles eternal teenage love, zombies, the birth of a child, death and afterlife all in a 3 minute song that is actually pretty damn beautiful.
Needless to say, Stephen Kellogg has a way with words. The dudes a lyrical poet, and he can provide enough banter to keep the show flowing between songs when not backed by the Sixers. I would highly suggest checking this show out if you get a chance, but don’t slack on tickets as most shows on the tour as selling out well in advance. Check www.stephenkellog.com for more information and watch for a new album from SK and the Sixers this fall.
Catch him out on the West Side next week. 5/12 Seattle at The Triple Door, 5/13 Portland at Mississippi Studios, 5/14 San Francisco at Swedish American Hall, 5/16 Los Angeles at Bootleg Theater.
SETLIST: (click song for Youtube video from this show)
Lonely in Columbus (The Bear)
A (With Love) (The Bear)
Anthem of Our Discovery (Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers)
4th of July (Glassjaw Boxer)
See You Later, See You Soon (Bulletproof Heart)
See Yourself (The Bear)
Girlfriend as Pretty as You (One Night in Brooklyn)
Start the Day Early (Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers)
Such a Way (Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers)
Danny’s Song w/ Tift Merritt (Kenny Loggins cover)
Shady Esperanto and the Young Hearts (The Bear)
Milwuakee (Glassjaw Boxer)
E: The Bear (The Bear)
E: Satisfied Man (The Bear)