Brendan James, Matt White, and Berklee alumnus Will Knox @ Cafe 939

Brendan James @ Berklee’s Cafe 939

Earlier this semester I attended my first Cafe 939 show, and WOW! Was I impressed! While I had been inside the Red Room at Cafe 939 to hear several guest artists to speak to my ACI class, I had never attended a concert to hear the acoustics of the room and the vibe of the venue. And I can confidently say that it’s the finest small-medium venue I’ve ever been to – just intimate enough to cultivate a sense of chemistry between the artists and the audience but also large enough and technologically outfitted to keep the energy level high. But enough about the venue – on to the music!

Berklee alum Will Knox @ Cafe 939

Will Knox performed solo to open the evening. Being that he was a Berklee alumnus, I already liked Will, but his fantastic English accent and his catchy songwriting certainly helped too! Immediately I was struck by how well he self-accompaniment himself on guitar, as the songs never felt lacking in energy, rhythm, or substance. Lyrically, Will’s songs ranged from incredibly serious, like “Immigrant Hands” that ponders the lives and struggles of immigrants coming to Ellis Island, to light-hearted angst, like in his song “I’m Going to Kill You In Your Sleep” about wishing harm on his former, and terrible, New York City roommate. Of course, he performed many songs that were somewhere in between silly and serious, but always well-crafted and passionate. Here’s an example from his newest EP Lexicon – Ice Capades.

Will also used a hybrid instrument during a portion of his set, the use of which he jokingly referred to as “cheating,” made from the neck of a regular six string guitar and the body of a banjo. Cheating or not, I loved the mix of antiquated and modern sounds that the instrument lent to his music, heard here in “Footprints On The Moon”

Matt White @ Cafe 939

Next was Matt White, whose sound I would describe as quirky pop piano. Matt was the perfect transition from guitarist Will Knox and pianist Brendan James, as Matt played both piano and guitar very well.

Between his throw-back coiffure, timeless topics of love and relationships, and funky falsetto, Matt offered his own retro twist on the tired pop piano formula that was both offbeat but accessible. Here’s his quirky, catchy style in action, performing “And The Beat Goes On.”

And finally, there was Brendan James. I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t actually listened to any of Brendan James’ music before the concert, but afterwards I couldn’t get to the merch table soon enough to buy his albums. His nuanced piano playing, smooth voice, catchy songs, and impassioned lyrics won me over from his first song, “Get It Right,” which he performed solo before his band joined him. But enough of me trying to describe the performance – listen for yourself.

Although I really enjoyed Brendan’s entire set, my favorite songs were the ones Brendan performed solo because I was able to hear more of the inflections and emotions in his vocals, and it allowed for more intimate and humorous banter with the audience.

Normally at concerts, I’m desperately waiting for the dreadful opening acts to finish so that I can enjoy the one bright spot of the evening – the headlining act. But at this show I was pleasantly surprised to find all three artists incredibly satisfying, especially surprising since I wasn’t familiar with their music before that night’s show. But however ignorant I came to that show, I definitely left a fan of all three artists. And hopefully after reading this post, you’ll be a fan too!

- Elisa

One thought on “Brendan James, Matt White, and Berklee alumnus Will Knox @ Cafe 939

  1. Peter

    A deeply satisfying review and the images are all first rate! I’m so impressed with the quality of both this blog and the musicianship that Berklee produces.

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