Music, Went There

Went There: Florist, Ami Dang Make Magic @ Great Scott

8/4/2019

by

There was a certain amount of witchcraft at work at Great Scott even before Florist came on—the audience was full of so many asymmetrical haircuts, Warby Parker glasses, and earrings clearly purchased down the street at Buffalo Exchange that typified urban witches in the modern age. This description could also fit Florist’s frontwoman, Emily Sprague, as well as Florist’s opener, Ami Dang, an experimental sitarist and vocalist from Baltimore, Maryland.

Dang made herself comfortable on the floor of the stage, curling up with her sitar and a strobing multicolored light that made its best efforts to send everyone on a trip, shrooms or no shrooms. She set the right sort of surrealist vibe for the evening, that I felt was an appropriate pre-game for Florist’s nonconforming and laidback performance. Dang’s own magic seemed to permeate the audience. Perhaps this was best demonstrated by something my friend and I overheard from a boy wearing an NPR shirt exclaim to his friend when he realized he had seen Dang perform at Great Scott before: “What providence that we should meet again! And I don’t mean Rhode Island.”

Ami Dang serenades with her sitar. Photo provided by the author.

Florist, themselves, worked their own sorts of enchantments once they took the stage. After a couple songs of their soft, fog-filled guitar-and-keyboard filled odes to the beauty of nature and the inevitable mortality of all that we love, I had to pause and wonder, since when did Great Scott become a forest full of sapphic lumberjacks?

They kicked off with their biggest hit, “Vacation,” which came as a surprise, but ultimately set the lackadaisical and muted tone of the show.

Coming off the debut of their third album, Emily Alone, on July 26th, Florist’s songs still feel like a Mary Oliver poem with the benefits of melody, like Emily Sprague is single-handedly reviving the Transcendentalist movement. The lyrics of “Glowing Brightly,” a song off their 2017 album If Blue Could Be Happiness, perfectly demonstrate Florist’s ties with Emerson and Thoreau, with seeing God and philosophy and the crux of existence in nature and all of that: “I just want love, I just want sun, I just want your company/ Silhouette of the mountain in the dark/ Is there anything more beautiful than afternoon/ Or the quiet summer nights while the rainstorm gently cries?”

Jonnie Baker of Florist uses a bow to play his guitar. Photo provided by the author.

The quartet, composed of Sprague on bass and vocals, Rick Spataro on piano and guitar, Felix Walworth on drums, and Jonnie Baker on guitar and synth, haven’t toured together in nearly 3 ½ years but their ease together, their shared eager smiles, revealed their closeness. This sense of kin was reinforced by Emily’s mid-show declaration of her bandmates feeling like closer family members than her actual blood relations. Their comfort with one another reinforced the whimsical feel in the air—Baker was only wearing socks for the whole performance, and spent one of the last songs of the evening playing his guitar with a cello bow. Emily, however, took the lead in establishing a conversational and easygoing rapport with the audience, reminiscing between songs about her “brief sort of lifetime” living in Boston years ago, and her familiarity with Great Scott as a venue–”if this place wasn’t right here, then we wouldn’t be right here today,” she joked at one point during the show. During her solo songs, however, playing songs off the new album Emily Alone, she mentioned that the new album was one full of brooding and that Massachusetts was a state that knew how to brood.

This much, of course, is true, and the crowd definitely vibed with Sprague’s harrowing lyrics and soft guitar as best they could.

For all of that, the band rarely played together— often only the synth or guitars would accompany Sprague’s vocals, which, while melodic, are not ideal for live performance. However, whenever their percussion kicked it, it was like breaking out of a reverie, a live electric shock that reminded the audience that we were, in fact, at a concert. Once awoken from the dream, it was difficult to readjust to their typical lowkey sound—after “1914,” the only song where all members of the band sang, Sprague announced that it was time “to bring it it back down,” when it had not been particularly evident to me that they had ever brought it up. Florist isn’t a band to mosh to, or even really one to nod along appreciatively to—but that’s okay. Their music isn’t for dancing—it’s intended to comfort, to soothe, to remind the listener (as well as the band members themselves) that “you’re not as alone as you feel in the dark.”

Florist mellows out at the Great Scott. Photo provided by the author

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