On a snowy night in Ithaca on the precipice of the deep freeze, known as the Polar Vortex, a young college town crowd braved the elements to warm up to folk-rock breakout, Rayland Baxter and his 5-piece band. In the midst of a lengthy tour promoting his critically-acclaimed new release, Wide Awake, the set expectedly concentrated heavily on the new stuff, but sprinkled in songs from his entire catalog for a dynamic show.
The set list looked a bit like a roll call. Present was “Mr. Rodriguez,” “Angeline,” Willy, “Sandra Monica,” “Olivia,” Larocco and “Amelia Baker.” But all eyes, ears and minds were set on Baxter himself.
The frontman commanded the stage and audience like an old pro. The crowd was amped and excited; Baxter was game for a little friendly banter, going so far as to join in on a FaceTime with someone’s father. The obligatory “How’s it going?” query was answered, “It’s a massive Tuesday in Ithaca.” Baxter agreed, then took it and ran, describing his day flying in from Nashville. Later he would introduce “Olivia” as a Massive Tuesday for sensitivity dot com. When asked about his shoes, Baxter promptly took one off and put in a pitch for All Birds, followed by a pitch for his toothbrush brand of choice, of all things.
Even more, he controlled the crowd through music. At the powerful highs of “Everything to Me” and the extended jam of “Amelia Baker” they followed along in full rock out mode. They sang and danced together to the catchy hooks of “Hey Larocco” and “Casanova.” When Baxter broke it down in a mid set solo excursion, exploring some of his older, folksier material like “Dreamin'” and “Willy’s Song,” the ambient noise in the bar was dropped to an almost indistinguishable murmur. Respectfully and incredibly quiet to enjoy Baxter alone with his guitar, voice and an airy whisper of a whistle blown through his teeth.
Illiterate Light, a guitar and drum duo out of Harrisonburg, VA, warmed up the night with selections from their just-released EP, Sweet Beast. Bombastic drumming played from a standing position, fiery guitar leads and quality vocals, reminiscent of Jim James, put the stamp on an opening set that checked all the boxes. The venue had a room full of patrons from the get-go: the headliner had a crowd thoroughly ready for their set, the audience had an introduction to a great young band, and Illiterate Light had themselves a bevy of new fans.
Setlist: Strange American Dream, Mr. Rodriguez, Freakin’ Me Out, Everything to Me, Angeline, Sandra Monica, Young Man, Dreamin, Willy’s Song, Olivia, Hey Larocco, Casanova, Amelia Baker, Yellow Eyes, Let It All Go Man