Honest Folk, a little over a year in existence, promotes occasional pop-up folksy shows in the Rochester area. For their latest booking, they brought Montreal’s Leif Vollebekk to the Historic German House. Rather than plop Vollebekk and band, drummer Evan Tighe and bassist Michael Felder, up on the venue’s tall stage, they set up on a short riser in front for a more appropriately intimate appearance. ‘Honest’ wasn’t just in the name, it was the driving force behind the evening. Honest to the earth: it was announced it was a zero waste event, with everything either being recycled or composted. Honest to the community: proceeds from the event would be donated to the Center for Youth, a local non-profit working with homeless children.
And honest to the ears and soul: Vollebekk’s music, both reflective and relatable, was conceived, delivered and received without any air of contrivance. Opening with a short meditation mixing some ethereal Moog swirls with Wurlitzer grooving, he eased into “Into the Ether,” off his 2017 release Twin Solitude, which he played heavily from throughout the two-set show.
Vollebekk played like a man possessed, it seemed it was two people playing the part. The singer delivered every lyric like he was just realizing the weight of the words for the first time right then and there. His face stretched, contorted and squeezed into inhuman shapes as he sang, whether words or just utterances. His hands worked almost independently, banging out complementary sounds on the electric pianos or picking along on one of his three guitars. At times the playing and the singing happened in succession, as though one was answering the other.
Vollebekk was more emotive seated at the keys, but his guitar work was equally impressive. Both sets closed with him strapping on the electric, in the first on “Telluride” and the second with “East of Eden.” Both songs slowly built to a relatively energetic finish, with a fantastic flurry of finger-picking elegance.
The two sets were a rarity for this band. As Vollebekk explained it, LP’s have two sides, but he was from the CD generation. It felt like the audience got two separate show closers out of the deal. So it was only appropriate that we would get two encores. Vollebekk said they couldn’t decide between two covers, so they would play both. The evening would end with their takes from two folk legends. A full band reading of Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman” followed by a solo guitar interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” Honest through and through.
Into the Ether, Vancouver Time, ?, Michigan, Elegy > Off the Main Drag, Photographer Friend, Telluride
From the Forth, Cairo Blues, ?, All Night Sedans, ? > Elegy, East of Eden
E: Jokerman, A Case of You