Words: Sean Moore/ Photos: Ryan Flanagan
Sometimes, a band’s energy on stage comes from the energy of the audience like a symbiotic relationship, where everyone in the room needs each other for those few hours. Sometimes, a band is absolutely excited to be back in their “home state,” and can’t hide that fact from their physical presence, in the form of wide smiles that do not leave their faces the entire night. Both were evident last night at Port City Music Hall when the three young ladies of Lula Wiles played their folk-rock tunes for an appreciative crowd of supporters- who were equally excited to see the Portland-based band Snughouse open the night, which helped set the tone in terms of energy in the room.
The band has been touring relentlessly behind What Will We Do, their sophomore album which came out in January. Like most bands in the folk/Americana scene, Lula Wiles has made a name for themselves as a touring band, gaining more and more of a fanbase through word-of-mouth, thanks in large part to people witnessing their live show and telling friends. Port City Music Hall was the setting of their “home state show,” as all three young ladies have roots in Maine. Isa from South Berwick; Eleanor and Mali from Farmington. Having met at summer camps in Maine, the three re-connected while studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston. There they established their sound in the city’s roots music scene.
All three are talented musicians in their own right, playing several instruments amongst them including, banjo, fiddle, guitar, and bass, but the real magic is heard when the trio’s voices burn, twist and mingle in and out of verses together, and rise loudly at crucial points in some songs to accentuate the passion they have for the words they’re singing.
“we don’t want to overstay our welcome, but we’d get killed if we didn’t play this song.”
As a band, Isa Burke, Eleanor Buckland, and Mali Obamsawin with the addition of Sean Trischka on drums, take the best pieces of roots, folk, and Americana music that they love and blend them to present an exhilarating live experience. When I was listening to them play their tunes, I thought of other like-minded genre-benders like the Punch Brothers, the Avett Brothers, and Della Mae. They have their emotional ballads such as “If I Don’t Go” and then, there’s the more politically conscientious tunes including “Shaking As It Turns”. Mali, who prides herself on her Native American heritage as she told the crowd before her tune, “Good Old American Values.” also provided the crowd with a reflective song about addiction, called “Morphine,” which she told the audience came from “my brother’s struggle,” on a somber note of the night, before adding, “I’m sure we all know someone who’s struggled with addiction.”
Their beautiful and rich vocal harmonies were on display during songs like “The Pain of Loving You,” which sounded almost like they had plucked it from a show within a barn on a farm up in northern Maine. Some of my favorite moments during the set, though, were the more jaunty tunes they’d sound great on A Prairie Home Companion. “Nashville, Man” is the band’s sort of endeavor into the more poppy sound, and it was well-received by the crowd, but I think my favorite song was “It’s Cool, We’re Cool, Everything’s Cool,” a great send-off song to an ex-lover that brought the house down.
Snughouse are local darlings that have been playing together since about 2017, and as a quintet they have crafted some pure, emotionally-charged, beautiful indie folk. They were selected to open the show with their sensitive indie folk tunes, and it was like a match made in band heaven. Laura and Rosie traded vocal duties for the majority of the set, but stand-up bassist, Alex Millan took over vocal duties for two new songs that she’d written, “Wreckage” and “Inheritance”. The arrangement of their opening songs, “Deadweight” and “I Could Never Forget” really set the tone. Both sounded absolutely beautiful in the larger-than-they-are-used-to room at Port City Music Hall. Laura sang an incredibly sensual version of “Fever” (originally by Peggy Lee), in which the bass line really took over and accented Laura’s voice. The crowd loved it. In fact, the crowd seemed to collect themselves right up front for Snughouse, because they are adored within the local Portland music scene these days. There were many friends, and even some family members in the crowd, all cheering and supporting the band.
Many of their original songs have very personal lyrics, but in a way that is relatable to the listener. Their opening song “Deadweight” comes off like a breakup song written as a metaphor, providing some directness in a few chosen phrases. Two of my favorite songs from the evening, though, were “Lakeside View” and “Sipping Tea,” again for the personal and emotionally charged lyrics. Their sincerity comes across not just in their songs, but also in their performance of these songs. A crowd favorite, “Irie,” was the 45 minute set ender, which Alex joked, “we don’t want to overstay our welcome, but we’d get killed if we didn’t play this song.” It was the perfect ending tune for these local favorites.