by James Morse
I first sighted Devon Welsh at his concert at The Lilypad sitting cross-legged with his eyes shut; bobbing rhythmically to the music of the show’s second opener, Abandon. With each piercing hit on Abandon’s snare drum, Welsh’s head softly lowered, rising back up in the spaces in between. His movements made sense to me: the pedals that one member controlled lay down a meditative noise that enveloped the venue, and the chanting of the other two members gave the music a meditative quality. Even though the music thundered through the space (when asked how loud they wanted the speakers to be, Abandon told the sound engineer to make it as loud as possible) and the music felt very sinister, it was relaxing, almost like a trance. It seemed to be something Welsh needed—after all, it wasn’t long ago that Abandon and him had raced from a local UPS, printing off their daily tour newspaper: “the tour gazette daily chronicle—please read! please submit!.”
Whilst they had been printing their pages, St. Nothing had been opening the show. A local band, it was their first show in a while; a hiatus brought about by frontman Marco Lawrence’s time-consuming studies to be a nurse. St. Nothing mostly played new material, set to release in a 2020 EP. The wonderfully interlaced cello, harp, and vocals set a lush atmosphere, priming the canvas for the rest of the evening; for Abandon’s aforementioned set, and for Devon Welsh’s performance.
My defining memory of Devon Welsh’s set was the atmosphere that he created in the Lilypad that evening. It was like a cross between watching an open heart surgery in an operating theater and attending a seance. His music felt like it was bringing up his memories of love from the shadows; and then elegantly dissecting them before our eyes. Soft, tender, and fragile; we watched, listened, and heard Devon Welsh discuss so much of himself for our entertainment and emotion. He was intent on giving us the optimal environment for his music to affect us; having four wishes for us that evening.
The first was the dimming of all the lights in the tiny room, leaving nothing but two standing lamps and an LED sound rack to cast a soft reddish glow across the intimate venue. From where I was, Welsh’s face was reduced to its silhouette, cut out from the wall, with ever so gentle contours cast on his eyes and mouth. It brought out the details of expressions in subtle but ever so intricate ways that would have been lost under harsh stage lights. Devon’s second request was for us to rearrange the room into a semicircle: in the narrow space of The Lilypad, this meant that no one had more than three people in front of them. And with these first two requests put out, Devon started his set.
Devon focused on songs from his most recent 2019 album, True Love. Deeply personal, they go beyond the tropes of love songs to contextualize his feelings in anecdotes that give his words an ever more potent power. While not as instantly relatable; his lyrics are able to paint a picture that enables the listener to experience a greater empathy. A love song can be a beautiful thing, but humans and their emotions are even more gorgeous. His focus on singing about the people who are loving—not the love itself—lent a power to his music. And as Devon Welsh drew his set to a close, he made his third request. He asked us to all get closer to one another; to hold hands with our neighbors if we felt comfortable. Inches away from Devon Welsh and immediately besides the concertgoers next to me, he sang his second to last song, another wonderfully personal piece of music. In that moment, so close to one another, I would like to think that all of The Lilypad felt as connected to one another as I did to them.
But that wasn’t the end to our evening. Preparing us for the mood change of the final song; Devon Welsh advised and requested us to dance and move around. In a song all about the transportive and energetic power of music; “Dreamers”, Devon ended the evening to a crowd undulating under his rhythms and shouts. And as he sang that “Through the venue they were all in a trance / And they knew, they knew, they knew what music is for,” I realized what, at the very least, that evening was for me: an affirmation of music’s many wonders. Whether it be the the lush canopies of sound from St. Nothing, the intense and powerful rhythm of Abandon, or the touching introspection of Devon Welsh, music has a power; the power to affect us on levels that no other medium quite can.