Show Review: Son Little @ Middle East Upstairs 11.11.15

by Matt Sherman (Business), published December 1st 2015

photos by Matt Sherman

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Next to the bathrooms before the show at the upstairs of the Middle East, The Novel Ideas were performing vocal exercises before they opened for Son Little. Even from the urinal you could hear them finding their range and harmonizing. They play a brand of country-folk not often found in their home state of Massachusetts.  Their inclusion as opener was definitely last-minute and their sound clashed a bit with Son Little. Nonetheless, they played a solid set to a sparse crowd that kept an awkward 6-foot distance from the stage the entire time. Highlights included Danny Hoshino caressing the steel pedal guitar and lead vocalist Daniel Radin playing “Montana,” a song he wrote about an ex who then asked him to play it at her wedding. By the end the crowd started to take shape and the syncopated pops of beer cans filled the air. Aaron Livingston a.k.a. Son Little plays a fusion of blues, R&B, soul and rock, combining elements into a product that seems timeless yet remains cutting-edge. Over the past five years, he has built a following from collaborations with The Roots and producer RJD2. He is on his first headlining national tour in support of his October release of his self-titled solo debut.

Due to its cozy size, the Middle Easy Upstairs forces performer and crowd to become intimate. Son Little did just that on his opening song, “Joy” from his 2014 EP /Things I Forgot/, a slow-moving buildup showcasing Livingston’s impressive vocals. Think Bill Withers’ voice with a little more gravel and a comparable amount of soul.  Livingston wielded an electric guitar and brought along players on bass, guitar and drums. His solos were exploratory staccato blues riffs creeping down the neck of his guitar. The meat of his set began with “Lay Down,” a relaxing number with Livingston’s smooth vocals lying over wafting guitar notes and electric piano. He then got down to “Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches,” an incredible song where the hip-hop drums and Livingston’s passion seeped through the speakers and locked you into the groove.  For the entire show he was bathed in red light, matching the mood of the set:  devilish and dangerous, yet tender and emotional.

Disclaimer: don’t talk during a show at the Upstairs or you will be embarrassed. Livingston threw shade on a few conversationalists and silenced them to the applause of the crowd. After shrugging and laughing he gave a slight head nod/smile to the crowd and performed a slow, soulful rendition of “Hotline Bling,” forgoing the second verse for a borderline sexual guitar solo. After, he stood solo and touched on some tracks from /Son Little/ including “O Mother,” an echoing politically-charged song that sounds akin to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Livingston closed out with “The River,” an uptempo blues number guided by stomp-claps and Livingston’s rhythmic chanting. Son Little may not hit mainstream radio anytime soon, but if you are looking for music that possesses the timeless quality of classic soul and blues while incorporating contemporary style and swagger, then look no further.

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