Concert Review: Harriet at The Hotel Cafe

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Go. See. Harriet.

It’s that simple. They’re playing numerous dates at South By Southwest in Austin, TX starting March 13th and The Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles on the 27th. Stop reading this right now and go get tickets. If you don’t live in either Austin or Los Angeles, book a flight now. It will be completely worth it. You’re welcome.

Do you remember when you were a kid and saw The Wizard for the first time? How mind-blowingly awesome that scene was where a (pre-Rilo Kiley) Jenny Lewis and Kevin Arnold finally got his little brother to Video Armageddon and they revealed the first glimpse of an as-yet-to-be-released Super Mario Bros. 3? How much you agonized and obsessed over every detail of it, breaking down every pixel frame by frame like it was the Zapruder film as you and everyone you knew waited and waited for the game’s actual release, only to have to wait longer since it would sell out faster than they could ship them until finally one of your friends got their hands on that sweet, yellow box and bestowed upon the masses pure, perfect gaming joy? Well, I am that friend, and Harriet is my favorite Super Mario Bros. 3 of 2012.

Former Dawes pianist Alex Casnoff (read his interview here) formed Harriet (his grandmother’s name) out of an unflinching desire to get his meticulously crafted songs recorded and out of his head. The result is the band’s stellar debut EP Tell The Right Story, a definitively apropos title as each song is an audio-cinematic journey into stories about love, loss, betrayal, redemption, family, and friends. Through exquisite songwriting, both lyrically and musically, and a masterful grasp of narrative, what instantly resonates is Casnoff’s and Harriet’s ability to cut straight through to the simple, core emotions of what it’s like to feel, what it is to be human, and to just be looking for something or someone you can belong to. They are a Cameron Crowe soundtrack without the movie.

On Saturday, Harriet –  Casnoff (lead vocals, keyboards, guitar),  Adam Gunther (guitar), Aaron Folb (bass), and Henry Kwapis (drums), took to the stage and played to a packed house at that venerable weigh-station to stardom, The Hotel Cafe.

A story is only as good as the way it is told. Community theater is going to elicit a completely different response than Braodway. The majesty of Beethoven will lose something in translation when performed by a high school band. The Dark Knight is great on TV, but is awesome in IMAX.

At the Hotel Cafe, Harriet was Shakespearean. Casnoff’s vocals are soulful, emotive, and could fill a room hundreds of times larger. The musicianship of the band perfectly adds to the epicness of their sound. They are Simon and Garfunkel with amplifiers. On songs like “Send ‘Em Up,” and “Soldier,” the band reaches Springsteen-levels of Americana. A new song, “Bad Touch” perfectly incorporates angst-ridden lyrics with a driving, rock sound. By the time the band played the boozy, anthemic “I Slept With All Your Mothers,” the lead single off of their EP, the question that had arisen wasn’t “Why would Alex Casnoff leave a band on the rise like Dawes?” but rather, “Why didn’t he start Harriet sooner?”

Harriet is playing the White Iris SXSW 2012 show on March 13th and the BuzzBands LA Dear Austin: Love LA show on March 14th. Follow Harriet on Facebook for more announcements.



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