by MIKE CHAIKEN
A new artist standing on-stage alone in an arena as the opening act for a name-brand headliner is not that unusual.
But, in many situations, the artists flesh out his/her sound with backing tracks. So, the new artist is alone but not alone. They can hide a bit behind an aural wall of programmed beats, and electronic guitars, keys, strings, and horns.
However, new artist Savannah Conley, 21, demonstrated a good deal of chutzpah.
As the opener for the Violent Femmes and Ben Folds at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville July 28, Conley stood alone on stage—which as I said is not unusual for an opening act in 2019.
However, there were no backing tracks. There was no musician hidden behind the amplifier stacks of the headliners.
There was just Savannah Conley dead center stage with her guitar strapped across her shoulder, standing under some spotlights, accentuated with some hair lights, to make her pop visually on the platform.
And when she opened her mouth to sing, all you heard was her voice and her strummed guitar.
Conley, who is promoting her new EP “Twenty-Twenty” showed a great deal of confidence as a young artist in an era where audiences typically demand you sound “just like the record.” But Conley pulled it off. And an enraptured audience soaked in Conley’s solitary approach.
Conley’s musical approach is familiar but in many ways unique for 2009.
Although in interviews, Conley cites British indie bands as a prime influence, I heard artists that were more musical era peers of the headliner, i.e. the late 1980s and early 1990s
Conley’s dreamy, aching vocals made me think of Mazzy Star (1994’s “Fade Into You”) and the Cowboy Junkies (1988’s cover version of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”). The stripped down approach to her live performance in particular offered an inadvertent nod to the bare-boned musical approach of those groups.
In a more contemporary musical analogy, Conley’s vocal approach was similar to Lana DelRay’s.
Opening acts, typically, are tolerated by audiences eager to hear the headliners. These sets are earmarked by last minute visits to the restrooms, grabbing a beer or a pretzel, and checking out the t-shirts of the headliner.
But Conley managed to snag the attention of the audience members who arrived on time to catch her set.
Conley, most likely, was bolstered by her guitar-and-vocal approach, which demanded attention.
Conley’s songwriting demonstrated a good deal of maturity. There were no missives on the problem of boys. There were no attempts at addressing the social conscientious buzzwords of the moment.
There was a timelessness to Conley’s tales that bode well for her when her sound finds traction on the charts.
The Violent Femmes and Ben Folds should be commended for bringing along this young artist. It will be interesting to see where Savannah Conley ends up next.
I give Savannah Conley at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. 3 ½ out of 4 stars.