Brett Shady and Adam Kline of Golden Shoulders
Adam Kline, more commonly known by his songwriting and performing name Golden Shoulders, has been writing songs, touring incessantly and recording music with a shockingly diverse line up of players over the last decade. I was pretty excited when SLUG asked me to go to a small house show he would be performing at in the ninth and ninth neighborhood where I live. I mostly was familiar with him because one of my favorite songwriters Joanna Newsom spent some of her formative years singing and contributing keys for the band. The idea of seeing him in a less official, more intimate venue where meeting him would be easy was appealing.
As I neared the house I could hear music and I realized that the opening performer Brett Shady, who, like Golden Shoulders, is a currently living in the small town Nevada City, California, had already started. I took a moment to note, with real gratitude, that the front door was wide open. This would not only be one of those house shows with an atmosphere where anyone would be welcome, but also one which would be unspoiled by mics and electrics, which is my favorite way to enjoy this kind of acoustic indie pop. Slipping through the crowd of approximately thirty people to the front was a simple task and I took a seat on a couch an arm’s distance from Shady, who was sporting a plain black knit cap, plain white tee, jeans and Chuck Taylors. He was the epitome of a ‘regular guy.’ As he sang he shifted his weight from one foot to the other in a rocking motion. His is a lively brand of acoustic pop, but still reserved in the area of experimentation. He’s not looking to tread new ground or blaze trails, just to share some authentic emotions and ponderable thoughts. In this he succeeded, especially on his song “Angels, Ghosts and Demons” when he and Kline (who was filling in on backup vocals and percussion) broke into a vivacious bridge of harmonizing “ooohs,” then from there launched into straight up hollering in unison. There was real heart in that moment, and a slight bit of risk-taking that made it exciting and won this newer songwriter some points with me.
Immediately after Shady ended his set and began talking to audience members one of my favorite local songwriters, JP Haynie, stepped up to the performing area and asked, “Do we want to wait five minutes or should I just start now?” Ours was a room of people who either didn’t know what they wanted, were too nervous to state it, or were simply apathetic, so he went with the opinion of the one and only girl who responded to him and picked up his guitar. “I play quietly,” he warned, but unapologetically. “Well, more quietly than Brett.” With that he launched into one of his slow, pensive songs. Haynie’s music is essentially indie folk with his unusual voice (somewhere between David Bazan and Sparklehorse) whisper-singing over it. My favorite moment of the night came when Haynie started into a song he said he wrote about the fall time. The eeriness of the song perfectly coincided with the sound of crickets coming through the front door and the large painting of a girl on the wall behind him which, in its unfinished state, looked creepy and spectral.
Golden Shoulders, for this tour at least, was amusingly the same two people that opened the show, only now Kline was in the frontman role and Shady was holding the shaker and tambourine. Hearing the songs in these stripped down arrangement, it’s shocking to think that Josh Klinghoffer of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hunter Burgan of AFI, and Dan Elkan most notably of Hella and Broken Bells have all worked on this project at various times. Kline has an amusing demeanor; he jokes around and laughs and immediately the audience feels like they’re chilling with a friend. Perhaps it’s this sociability, this comfort with people that has attracted so many artists to collaborate with him.
Kline soon proved that it was not only humor that he had going for him. As he started into his first song there was no mistake that he was a songwriter with heartfelt, honest lyrics and boisterous melodies to share. Periodically the slight vibrato in his voice would give way to a dynamic, controlled shout, then drop seamlessly back into its place in the melody. On his second song, “Do You Know Who You Are?” Shady got the spectators involved with stomping and clapping. The song was fun and people got into it, even though it was missing a very cool banjo part that had been part of the recording and live performances in years past.
“I recognize a lot of you from the Provo show,” Kline remarked. “Thanks for coming back.” Golden Shoulders played a show in Utah County toward the beginning of their two and a half week tour. I hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out, but most of the spectators were clean cut, respectable young people and there was an odd absence of alcoholic beverages. Kline didn’t exactly stick out in this crowd. He was dressed in a plain tee, denim, Buddy Holly-style glasses and Converse.
As the two started into “the Honey, the Power, the Light,” my favorite song off the first Golden Shoulders album Let My Burden Be, there were cheers through the audience. This song, which originally was a duet between Kline and Newsom, has a timeless quality to it, and leans heavier on symbolism than the average Shoulders song. Shady did an excellent job filling in the harmonies that would have been Newsom’s, though the dynamic of having one male and one female voice on a folky pop strum-along like this can’t be replaced.
The two ended their set the same way they have for the last couple years, with the climactic, catchy tune “I Will Light You on Fire.” By the end of the song the whole audience was following Shady’s lead, singing along the title of the song. Even with the sparse number of people present there was a sense of community that was palpable and unifying. It’s always shocking to me, and a hopeful thing, to see music take a room of people all trying to be cooler than each other and get them to work together. That never gets old.