Jordan DePaul and His Band
w/ Jess Nolan
February 10, 2017
Photos and recap by Melanie Stangl
Snow lined the roads, chilled the air, and crunched under tires as I pulled into a makeshift parking spot outside Liveburgh Studio in Glenshaw on Friday, February 10th. But a short walk into the house-turned-concert-venue quickly warmed things up, both literally and figuratively. Red and pink spotlights shone on the ‘stage,’ along with the occasional string of Christmas lights, making for an intimate, inviting ambience. The various music memorabilia on the walls, along with the Sharpie-d autographs of many other local acts who have played here, added to the studio’s eclectic charm. A decently sized crowd of people had gathered, spreading throughout the various rooms of the house. Performers mingled with audience members, both imbibing brought-from-home booze and chatting away. The occasion? Nashville singer-songwriter Jordan DePaul’s “Sleepwalker” Tour.
It’s been six months since Pittsburgh was treated to a concert from DePaul, a close collaborator and friend of local talent Paul Luc, but the wait was worth it. His talent, passion, and sense of humor consistently captivated the room. This time, in contrast to his previous solo acoustic set with Luc, DePaul brought a band with him: Dan Pratt on drums, Gavin O’Broin on bass, and Jess Nolan on keys. The additional instrumentation took his songs up a level, adding gorgeous layers and complexity that Yinzers could have only previously heard on DePaul’s studio releases. Nolan, a singer-songwriter from Nashville in her own right, opened the show with her powerful, soulful voice and evocative lyrics. This show was originally scheduled with Luc at Pittsburgh Winery, but permit and scheduling issues changed both the venue and the lineup. However, between the perfectly-balanced sound run by venue owner Chris Leya, the wise-cracking from performers and audience alike, and the musical prowess displayed alongside truly meaningful, moving lyrics, everything seemed to come together perfectly. If you didn’t make the long, winding drive up Middle Road, you missed out.
Nolan, accompanied by Pratt and O’Broin, kicked things off a little after 8 PM with a song called “My Love.” Her gorgeous voice shone over an intoxicating medium-slow groove and swoony keys; a promising sign of things to come. Next, she moved into “Burn,” one of the tracks on her debut EP, “Strike A Match.” Lovely harmonies with O’Broin and lyrics such as “Ashes fallin’, smoke is risin’, I am risin’ too” made this ode to an ending relationship shine. Before starting “Stuck In Your Head,” she remarked that she was “tryin’ to do the music thing,” to which DePaul cried out, “You’re doin’ it, girl!” The blues-y, minor-chord-driven song highlighted Nolan’s keys, as well as her impressive vocal range—she’s similar to Sara Bareilles, but with a little bit more soul.
Next, she moved into the solo part of her set, commenting that “this seems like the right setting for it.”
“Here We Go Again,” a touching lament about the state of gun violence in the U.S., suited the simplified instrumentation and showed Nolan’s versatility as a songwriter. Afterwards, she acknowledged that this was her very first time in Pittsburgh, and she loved it; “I’m gonna come back.” One of the audience members then quipped, “Don’t lie.” Nolan laughed, replying, “No, no, I will! But…in the summer,” which is fair enough. Still, everyone in the room seemed to have forgotten about the cold, snowy conditions outside, focused instead on the warmth of both the songs and the company.
“Right from Wrong” a standout passionate ballad, switched gears back to a more introspective vibe, with insightful lines such as, “I can’t tell right from wrong—they speak in the same tone of voice.” Afterwards, Nolan acknowledged the audience’s rapt attention, commenting that performing at Liveburgh was “much better than playing in a crowded bar where no one is listening.” The next song, “Circle,” took things to an even more emotional place. She revealed that that very day was the third anniversary of her grandmother’s death, and as the only other artist in her family, they shared a strong bond. Nolan dedicated the piece to her, fittingly; the lyrics beautifully, sadly described the process of accepting the slow decline of an aging loved one. It was gorgeous with pain, and the crowd was respectfully silent.
The melancholy lasted just long enough: “Larger than Life” was an empowering, uplifting tune, again displaying Nolan’s range. (In a delightful surprise, DePaul jumped up to join her on vocal harmonies for this one.) After thanking us for being “such a great audience,” she closed out the solo portion of her set with the final track on her EP, “Change.”
The band rejoined Nolan for the last three songs, starting with the cool groove of “Mistakes.” Pratt and O’Broin provided a jazzy, lilting energy, which echoed that from beginning of the night. “Shadow” was next, describing a boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend who would follow them around town. Her voice, which had been consistently strong, was especially powerful in this one, making me believe her when she sang, “But I’m not scared of a shadow.” She ended things on an even more energetic note with “Your Gravity,” featuring a funky bass and piano intro and additional fun harmonies with O’Broin. All in all, it was an enchanting and enjoyable set, throughout which Nolan displayed incredible talent, range, and heart. The crowd’s enthusiastic, attentive reactions proved they noticed—and appreciated—all of it.
During the brief break between performers, Leya passed a hat around the audience, taking up a collection for the musicians in lieu of admission fare. The buzz of conversation picked back up, as people refilled their beverages and DePaul prepared to play. Instead of the acoustic guitar he sported at his last Pittsburgh gig, this time he broke out a gorgeous electric Epiphone that sounded as good as it looked. Before long, the crowd reassembled—some sitting on the floor, some on fold-out chairs which Leya produced from a closet, some standing towards the back of the room—and the performance continued.
Nolan maintained her place on the keys as DePaul started his set with “Without You,” a simultaneously nostalgic and hopeful number that featured an appealingly low guitar riff. Next was “Question Marks,” which showed the extent to which this full band could provide beautiful complexity and depth. Pratt’s drums in particular added a driving heartbeat to this track, which ebbed and flowed between softer and more intense moments, while the keys and a high bass part from O’Broin sparkled in the outro. The connecting thread, of course, was DePaul himself, with his passionate guitar playing and singing of such poignant lyrics as, “Do I really wanna be the man, singin’ my songs in the dark? Do I really wanna share those scars, if they’re all just question marks?” When the second song of a set is already a knockout, you know you’re in for something special.
He acknowledged the crowd’s raucous response with, “Cheers, everybody,” followed by, “I always say Pittsburgh is my favorite place to play.” The bar remained high during “Me + U,” a song from his 2016 release, “Forces.” Along with deliberate builds, lovely vocal harmonies, and DePaul’s intense expressiveness, this track displayed another trend that would recur throughout the set: DePaul’s hat falling off of his head. It was a small (and frankly, entertaining) price to pay for delivering such skilled and energetic performances.
“I’m gonna play a new song, if that’s okay,” he remarked afterwards…to which I sarcastically replied, “No, absolutely not.” He laughed, saying, “It’s not all right,” before moving into it anyway.
“Native Tongue” offered faster, pulsing guitar parts; increased use of minor chords; Pratt switching from regular drumsticks to wire brushes; a bass solo; and frank lyrics such as, “I’ve been speaking truth like this since I was young…It’s my native tongue.” It was cool as hell—you’ll want to snatch it up once a studio version is available.
The applause and whoops came louder after that song, with one audience member calling out, “Encore!” Without missing a beat, DePaul deadpanned, “That’s the fourth song, man.” Before playing “Ghost of Blue Ridge,” he struggled to remember the word “Yinzer;” instead, tentatively offering “Pittsburghians?” Once corrected, he sighed, “Ah, of course.” This track offered more of an upbeat, old country vibe, a seeming tribute to his Nashville residence. After his hat fell off for the fourth (but not last) time, someone asked, “You wanna duct tape your hat to your head?” DePaul laughed, quipping, “I’m the least hairy Italian you’ll ever meet.” Such exchanges might’ve been more affronting in a formal setting, but at Liveburgh, they only added to the comfort and genuine connection that house shows can provide.
“Passenger” was next, an energetic but thoughtful number about the power of strong emotions: “No control of lovin’ her, I’m just a passenger.” The band then left the stage for a couple of pieces, one of which was DePaul’s signature cover song, for good reason—“Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground. Before beginning the following track, “Lucky,” he shared the story of its inspiration. His mother found out he quit his office job to pursue music…on livestream, before he got a chance to tell her himself. The intense phone conversation that followed sparked this slower, thoughtful tune, summed up by its recurring line, “I don’t know how I wound up in this mess…I’m lucky, I guess.” Again, DePaul’s passion was obvious. The whole night had been intimate, but this song in particular seemed to bring the whole room closer—the crowd was completely silent, paying rapt attention.
He called Nolan, O’Broin, and Pratt back up to join him for “Brighter Shade of Blue,” which he described as being “about going to heaven.” A moving track he wrote after his father passed away, it’s impressively racked up over a million plays on Spotify. Between Pratt’s unrushed kick drum and wire brushes, soulful vocal harmonies, and the just-right tone of DePaul’s Epiphone, it was a stirring performance. Next came the tour’s namesake, “Sleepwalker,” a song about just going through the motions which, somewhat ironically, kicked the energy and tempo back up (and knocked his hat off again.)
He and the band followed that up with the comparably energetic “Tiny Hotel Rooms.” This was the song he wrote with Paul Luc (whose absence he lamented) about their time together on the road. Things got even faster with the second cover of the night, Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which was an awesome and fun surprise. Despite missing a few lyrics, which was understandable at the pace he was going, the song was a perfect fit for DePaul and his band, and the audience (self included) loved it.
He prefaced the next number, “Habit,” with “If you like this song, don’t ask me about it later…just go buy it on iTunes,” before chuckling and offering, more genuinely, “Thank y’all for listening.” A mellower track that slowly built in energy throughout, it reflected on an exciting, addicting new relationship: “You’re the only habit, that I can never quit.” Once again, his vocal harmonies with O’Broin were a real treat.
After agreeing to one more song at the crowd’s insistence (and enthusiastic woo’s), he emphasized repeatedly that it would be the final track. Just to be totally sure, I said, “Jordan, Jordan…is this the last one?” To which he nodded and replied seriously, “This is the last one.” The piece, “No Good for You,” is about his friend Tommy’s old relationship, the same guy who “outed him to his mom on the livestream.” After considering his phrasing, DePaul clarified, “Not, like, anything sexual.” Harshly honest lines like, “I can’t say for certain, when I became the person/that sees someone hurtin’/and just walks away” hit home, and epitomized the emotional depth and variety DePaul is capable of conveying. The three-part harmony between him, Nolan, and O’Broin was particularly lovely, and a great way to close out the concert.
Of course, the music eventually had to end, and I eventually had to return back into the cold February night. But like the rest of the audience, I put it off a little longer, reveling in both the conversations with friends and fellow music lovers as well as the afterglow of a genuinely moving show. There’s something refreshing about seeing such talent, honesty, and passion firsthand, that was only enhanced by the intimacy of the space in which it happened.
Suffice to say, next time DePaul comes to Pittsburgh (or the next time you’re in Nashville), do yourself a favor and see him play. Until then, follow along with him on Facebook here (as well as Jess Nolan here.)