I first met Ian George at the Aster Cafe a few months back where he was running sound for a The Shackleton’s residency. We exchanged information and a few weeks later I found myself in his Saint Paul living room, jamming on tunes from his recently released album ‘Kingdom of my Youth’. Ian has a kind soul and a sort of youthful charm about him that seems to transcend time and space. Is he a young backpacker from the wilderness of Oregon? A 60’s-era flower child dancing barefoot in a meadow? A shoeless Glen Hansard, troubadour-ing around the streets of Dublin? No, actually, he’s a young man from Minneapolis who finally returned to his hometown for an album release party at the Icehouse this past Thursday!
I arrived around 9:15, just as the opening band, Tabah, was starting. My initial thought was “wow, these two have a great thing going, I just wish there was a drummer and a bassist!” As if on cue, the song ended and vocalist Cecilia mentioned that four members of their six member band would not be joining them tonight, leaving only 2 guitars and her voice. But what they did with this instrumentation over the next 45 minutes was enrapturing! From their funky single ‘Serious Summer’ (set to be released soon) to the bleak, introspective ‘Can’t be Persuaded’, the two musicians traversed the entire spectrum of sonic emotions, with Cecilia leading the charge with her powerful voice and relatable story-telling. I loved the timbre of her voice, sometimes quavering as if she was on the edge of tears, but always perfectly in-tune with a range that is nothing short of impressive. The two musicians onstage capture the attention of everyone at the Icehouse that evening, and I can’t wait to see them with their full band come the spring!
I had no doubt that Ian’s band would be top-tier instrumentalists (as a bassist, I was personally blown away by Ted Olsen’s upright bass chops), but what I did not expect was how much the musician’s personal styles would warp and change the traditionally “folk” sound of the album! Pat’s warbly synth and his clean, electric guitar, coupled with Ted’s upright tone and Tyler’s jazz-influenced saxophone vocabulary gave Ian’s music a smooth ‘indie’ vibe, even bordering on jazz at several points. While it isn’t what I was expecting, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved it! Part of seeing a band live is to hear the songs you love transcend the versions that are immortalized on the record. Ian George took a risk when he decided to “switch things up”. And that risk paid off in full, leading to an amazing night of honest music! I cannot wait to see how Ian George + The Well grow and thrive as an ensemble. After all, after only 5 weeks of “1 to 1 and a half rehearsals a week” (Ian’s words), the band sounded like a group of longtime pals, anticipating each other’s every note, and trusting each other to exceed the expectations they had set for themselves. After all, that’s what making music with others is all about.