By Brian Tucker
Last November I was in a coffee shop with Ben Mabry and Brent Holloman discussing their new album Colony of Bees weeks before it was released. Mabry, at the time, seemed unsure about it, asking me what I thought and what people might think of it.
Together, Mabry and Holloman craft beautiful music. On Bees they sound more mature, more nuanced than ever. Over three months later Mabry’s concerns should be properly assuaged, at least in terms of a live performance of the new material and given how Beta Radio sounded at Bourgie Nights on Friday night. The Sitting Room tour in support of the new album seemed to have wiped away the concerns and self criticism.
Beta Radio ended their intimate two week Sitting Room 2015 tour Friday at Bourgie Nights to a capacity crowd. I talked with Holloman before the show about the tour.
“It was great. We mostly played homes and three venues,” Holloman said. “The homes were a lot of fun.”
Beta Radio rarely plays shows but decided to do a small tour. Using social media they put out word they wanted to play. Fans responded from all over and they scheduled a circuitous tour taking them north and back.
“It took us to places where a lot of snow fell,” Mabry told the crowd between songs.
For the Friday performance it was Mabry, Brent and Amanda Holloman, delivering an intimate set of material past and present under warm, low key lighting. The bulk of the show was comprised of songs off Bees (which arrived on vinyl this month).
The evening began gently with “White Faun” and continued on like a Storytellers show until the end. Kudos to Sean Thomas Gerard running sound that night who reminded audience members that it was a listening room show, meaning turn off cell phones and mind the conversations. Gerard’s request helped make the night more enjoyable and easier to absorb.
Throughout Mabry shared stories between songs, either about their origin or personal anecdotes, such as his grandparents passing for “On the Frame.” A revealing songwriting moment occurred later in the set for a popular song called “Either Way” from their 2010 debut Seven Sisters.
Catchy and infectious, Mabry told me last fall during he came up with the song quickly. He had joined his family in Hawaii years ago while on vacation. Watching a native music performance one evening he was overcome by a melody in his head that wouldn’t go away.
“I went to the public bathroom and checked under the stall doors, Mabry said, getting laughs from the crowd. “I sang the melody into my phone.”
That melody would become “Either Way,” a song they never saw as the album’s quarterback four years ago. It did, becoming a very popular and very catchy song. The melody is still in my head as I write this a day later. The story is all the more interesting knowing how long the band’s creative process can be.
“Hopefully we have another album sooner than four years,” Mabry said before playing “The Man Grows,” a song they wrote, recorded and got mastered for the television show Hart of Dixie in just a few days time.
The song was the set’s most energetic, a centerpiece among atmospheric and sweetly sung material. Lush songs were retooled for the tour, often with surprising new interpretations. The evening’s music was spare – acoustic guitar and banjo against a trio of singers. The re-engineered songs whimsically incorporated xylophone and whistling on “On the Frame” and the short but bittersweet “Come On Make it Right Once.”
But for all the power and grace from the songs on Colony of Bees the three from Seven Sisters resonated still. “Darden Road” was later followed “Where Losers Do” which brought cheers and caused Mabry to crack a big smile. They closed the show with “East of Tennessee,” it too a fiery performance.
There are a few videos from the show below, but hopefully there will be more shows before the band releases another album.