Article and Photos by: Sean Moore
The small, intimate room at One Longfellow Square created the perfect atmosphere for Upstate, a band from Beacon, New York. Their set felt like they were playing at a house show and the band seemed completely comfortable on stage. Having first emerged in 2015 with their debut album A Remedy, the band has been evolving their sound and pushing themselves to grow past their Americana-influence with an adventurous blend of folk, R & B, jazz, gospel, and a little bit of rock and roll that makes for an incredible live performance.
Upstate is comprised of Mary Kenney, Melanie Green, and Allison Olender whose voices all have distinct characteristics, which on their own sound beautiful, but the power of their voices really hits the listener when all three come together for an absolutely sonic harmony during their songs, which could be heard within the first few seconds of their opening song “Don’t Matter” and carried on through songs like “Going Gone” and “Mother,” both of which end with all three harmonizing to end the songs, leaving the audience speechless and holding their collective breaths.
Upon getting on stage, the band mentioned how they had spent the day at Old Orchard Beach, which elicited a couple of groans from the audience and singer Mary Kenney asked “why?”, “Too touristy,” someone replied. “Well… what about Portland?” Mary quipped back. It was this type of banter and interaction between the band members and their appreciative and attentive audience that made the evening feel even more like a house show. As if everyone knew each other and were all there supporting their friends on stage.
There were many similar moments throughout the night, including Melanie Green’s explanation behind “Crawl In,” the last track on their new album Healing, which she described as “a love song about relationships, which are hard work. I’ve been through a lot with my significant other. Our relationship is going on three years now,” before taking the lead vocals while strumming her guitar. Immediately following that song, Allison Olender, strapped with her own white guitar, explained to the audience the meaning behind her lyrics to “Minnesota Waltz” as “a cure for seasonal depression, which you Mainers must understand.” Near the end of their set, Melanie asked if anyone had any questions, but insisted “it has to be a good question, not how did you meet or anything like that.” I chimed in and asked about the matching tattoos all three women had on the backs of their arms. Melanie went on to explain the small bird tattoo “should be familiar to everyone in Maine, because it’s a loon. We got the tattoos in Minnesota and they were $13,” and then added, “That was a good question!” and explained that the next song is related to their matching tattoos and we will know why. The band then played “I’ll Be Fine” from the new album, which includes a nearly perfect loon call performed by Mary Kenney as the song closes.
The R & B influence can be heard in their upbeat song “Young,” which includes the girls trading words amongst each other throughout to create a beautiful melody. They balanced the gorgeous, smoothly harmonized songs with some absolute foot-stomping, true Americana tunes like “Weekend” and a very radio-friendly “Marietta,” thanks to thumping bass played by Harry D’Agostino, slapping of the cajon played by Dean Mahoney, and a wailing saxophone that really make the house party come to life. The crowd was hooting and hollering during these upbeat songs, and prompted Mary to ask how everyone felt about the seated show. The vibe in the room was definitely, “let’s dance,” so perhaps the next time the band comes to town to headline a larger venue (without a doubt), there will be less sitting and more dancing.
They did insist that everyone get on their feet for their encore song, “Soft Serve,” to which the audience happily obliged. They took the microphones from their respective stands and walked down off the stage and into the crowd while they sang. At one point, all three women were standing on chairs in the middle of the room while everyone danced around them through the chorus of the song. It was such an awesome way to end an evening of incredible music from a band that is clearly going places and having fun while doing it.